A new World Cup cycle means fresh faces in a national team, and South Korea is no different. One name, in particular, is already drawing rave reviews in his native land and is plying his trade abroad for the first time in his career.
Hwang In-beom only joined the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer in February, but he’s tipped as a future star for South Korea. If all goes according to plan in MLS, a European transfer could be his next step to glory.
Who is Hwang In-beom?
At 22 years of age, Hwang In-beom chose to stay in South Korea to fulfil his required two years of military service before leaving his homeland. Eventually, he signed with the Whitecaps despite reported interest from German clubs. Hwang has the capabilities to occupy the No. 10 role, though his well-rounded attributes make him the ideal box-to-box midfielder, which is probably where his future lies.
Composure in possession
Perhaps Hwang’s best quality is his composure on the ball. He loves dictating the tempo, he circulates the ball flawlessly and seldom coughs it up.
Since 2016 when he became a regular starter with Daejeon Citizen, Hwang has averaged around 55 passes per game with an accuracy of around 84 per cent. Most of those attempts are proactive and unlock space for his team to exploit.
In just his second game as a Whitecap, Hwang thoroughly dominated the midfield in a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. The South Korean completed 54 of 62 passes and created one glorious opportunity for Andy Rose which should’ve been converted.
This Vancouver side was completely revamped before the season. It has a new coach and the squad is adapting to a completely new system. If Hwang is capable of these performances at this stage of the campaign, he could be unplayable by the summer months.
One of Hwang’s more unheralded attributes is his defensive ability. It’s not distinguishable when glancing at stats because he recovers possession so effortlessly.
Hwang is averaging approximately 3.48 interceptions per 90 minutes and 6.19 ball recoveries. He doesn’t rank high in tackles because he seldom goes to ground. Even with a slender frame, the 22-year-old knows how to shield the ball and recover it cleanly. This, in turn, alleviates pressure on the back line.
Because Hwang is constantly tracking back and pushing further up the pitch, he covers a lot of ground. This further backs up the claims that he is best suited to the No. 8 role in midfield.
The one barrier for a young player reaching his potential is his mental strength. Hwang seems to have that in spades. In pre-season, he was seen communicating with other Whitecaps players – via a translator – about their movements and their preferred positioning.
That extra commitment shows on the pitch. Hwang is always in the right position to receive the ball, move upfield and string a few passes with his teammates.
When a young player works to ensure the right balance and chemistry, it’s always a positive sign.
Ki Sung-yeung’s retirement from international duty was a blow for South Korea. But manager Paulo Bento has a ready-made replacement in the form of Hwang In-beom.
Obviously, Hwang’s development in Vancouver is the top priority. It’s a more physical and fast-paced league compared to the K League 2 – South Korea’s second division – but the early signs are encouraging.
With his defensive prowess, vision, composure and attention to detail, Hwang should regenerate interest from Europe within the next couple of years.