Time travel with Ki Sung-yueng, who will play 200 of his 508 professional games in Seoul.
I met Ki Sung-yueng. He’s on the verge of making his 200th appearance for his current club, FC Seoul, so I wanted to take a short trip back in time. The trip was not only to the past, but also to the future.
He will complete his 200th appearance in a Seoul jersey when he plays in the 30th round of the K League on Sunday against Gwangju FC. Ki Sung-yong, who reached the 500-match milestone in his professional career in July, has played about 40 percent of those games for Seoul. He played 93 games for Seoul before moving to Europe with Celtic FC in early 2010, reaching the 100-game mark upon his return in 2020, and is on the verge of reaching the 200-game mark three years later. (*When he plays against Gwangju, he will have played 508 professional games and 200 games for Seoul).
On the morning of the 13th, I traveled to GS Champions Park in Guri, Gyeonggi-do, to catch up with Ki Sung-yong. He had arrived early in the morning to work out and meet with the coaching staff. When I told him that he had already played 200 games, he laughed, saying that he had many thoughts.
He loves to talk about soccer, so if we had enough time, we could have talked about current trends in European soccer, recent national team issues, the tactical landscape of the K League, and more, but we couldn’t because he had training ahead of him. We focused on his soccer life as a “Seoulite,” his feelings about the team, and his current situation, as we celebrated his 200th game in Seoul.
Here’s the full interview with Ki Sung-yueng.
You’re about to play 200 games for Seoul. How does that feel?
When I came back to Korea, it was 100 games. Now that I’m approaching 200 games, I feel like I’ve played a lot. FC Seoul is the team I’ve played the most games for so far. I think it’s a great privilege to play for Sangam and I have a lot of different thoughts.
I played 162 games for Swansea, so it’s a club I’ve played for a lot more than that. What does Seoul mean to you?
It was the first team that opened my path in football. I’m grateful to them for allowing me to make my debut and build my career to this point. It’s really old. The training center, the stadium, everything is the same, but I feel like I’ve changed. I’ve shared the highs and lows with this team. It’s a team that I’m grateful for and that shaped my soccer life.
Do you remember your debut against Daegu FC on March 4, 2007?
Of course I remember the game, but I don’t remember exactly what I did. I was very nervous. I still remember the emotions I felt then. The feeling I had when I entered the stadium and warmed up. I wanted to play so badly at the time that I said I only wanted to play once for Sangam, and it was a very precious time.
When I made my debut, there was Lee Eul-yong in the midfield. Now I play with his son, Lee Tae-seok. (The four starting midfielders were Kim Han-yoon, Lee Min-sung, and Lee Eul-yong, in addition to Ki Sung-yong.)
I realize how much time has passed. When I first came to the pros and went to winter training, my roommate was Lee Eul-yong, and I was just breathing. He made me feel comfortable and played a lot of jokes with me. The age difference between him and me is the same as the age difference between Tae-seok and me now. Compared to then, Tae-seok seems to approach me first. It’s strange. Time flies and I think, “This day is really coming.
You didn’t play in your first year in 2006
I think the first year was actually the hardest time in my soccer career. There were so many good players that there was no room for me. There were a lot of younger players who had already come to the pros and developed their skills, so when I first came to the pros, it was overwhelming, so I worked really hard. I think it was the time in my soccer career when I worked the hardest. I had a lot of frustrations and I grew a lot. (You were only 17 years old.) When you come to the pros, age doesn’t matter. Everyone is competing. Unlike in middle school and high school, it’s about whoever is good enough to play. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old.
You have a lot of affection for Seoul, what was it like when your plans to return in the winter of 2019 fell through?
I went through a lot of different situations, and at that time I had the option of coming back to Korea. I was thinking, “Is it right to come back to Korea?” and Seoul had the same idea. From my point of view, I had a knee injury and my physical condition was a little bit difficult, and I realized that if I delayed my comeback, I would have less to show the fans, so I had to come back to Seoul. There were some situations in the middle that weren’t good for the fans to see, but I thought that if I was going to come back to Korea, it was only right to do it with the team where I started my soccer career, Seoul. At that time, many fans supported me and showed me love through social media. I thought I should come here and give them a good show. It hasn’t been easy, but FC Seoul has always been in my heart. I’m sure the fans were disappointed, but I was the most disappointed. Those who knew me knew my true feelings, but there were many fans who didn’t know my true feelings. I could tell the people I could talk to, but I couldn’t explain it to everyone. Anyway, I’m happy that I came to Seoul and played a lot of matches for three years, and I’m happy that the fans supported me.
Your brother Jin-gyu, who played with you, became the acting head coach.
He’s the head coach now, so I call him coach. When I came back to Seoul, Jin-gyu contacted me, and he kept asking me to come back. When I came back, the team wasn’t doing well and I had a hard time, so I told him, ‘I’m having a hard time because of you. I came back because I trusted you,’ and I said a lot of things like that (laughs). He’s really close to me. He’s the brother I’ve relied on since I was a kid, and I relied on him a lot when we shared a room at the Olympic team. Having an older brother like that as an acting coach means I’ve grown up a lot. Kim Jin-kyu loves FC Seoul more than anyone else, so I think he can lead the team well with a sense of responsibility.
Have your plans for coaching after retirement changed?
I’m thinking about it. I haven’t decided yet, but of course I’m taking coaching classes. What I feel nowadays is that if I become a coach, I think I can make players become good players or not so good players. I have to take responsibility, make them trust me, follow me, and develop them, and I wonder if I can be really good at that… I think about it. In fact, in soccer, anyone can talk a lot. For example, when you have a bad game, you say this is the problem, this is the problem, this is the problem. The coach is the one who has a clear picture of the problem, instills the solution and gets the players to follow his ideas. I don’t know if I can do that. It’s not just about having good ideas. You have to get the players to follow it and trust it completely, and if it’s wrong, you have to instill another idea. It’s not an easy task, and that’s why I’m worried. I want to try it. If I think I have the right aptitude and I can give the players the ability, then I can go deep, and if I don’t think I have the ability, then it can just be an experience.
It might be a silly question, but when you become a coach, you are a former star player. Does that make the players more inclined to follow you?
I think it’s more about how much they trust you on the field when you give them an idea. When it works, they follow, but when it doesn’t work and doesn’t produce results, I think that’s the most important moment. I think that’s the hardest part, whether to push the same idea when it doesn’t work, or to give them a new idea and quickly find another way. If the players don’t get confused and you have something tactical that you can take out and make the opponent suffer, and it works, then naturally the players trust you, but when it doesn’t work, it’s about how much you can minimize the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with it. I think that’s the skill of a coach.
Do you plan to take coaching classes again this year?
Yes, I am. I’m doing an A this year.
You have a meeting scheduled with Pep Guardiola in the winter.
There are a lot of coaches I’d like to meet when I have time, so I’m in contact with them. But he’s busy, so we’ll see. I have a lot of questions, a lot of things I want to ask him. Tactical things, team management… I don’t necessarily have the right answers, but I think it would be good to talk to coaches who have been coaching for a long time about what’s right and what’s good to accept and learn.
By the way, do you have a retirement plan?
I’m always thinking about retirement. (Are you talking about re-signing with Seoul?) I don’t have anything specific in mind yet. I’m thinking about a lot of things, and I have a lot to think about. I’m thinking about it a lot.
Do you have any plans to say, “I’ll do it in a few years”?
I don’t know. I’m thinking about what I need to do when I retire. I haven’t decided how long I’m going to play soccer.
Your performance and physical condition still look good.
The soccer part is not a big problem. I’m in good shape, but that’s not the only thing I’m thinking about. My motivation, the team’s situation… I’m a senior, so I don’t want to be a hindrance to the team. I’m thinking about a lot of things. 토토사이트
Your daughter told you to play until you’re 40?
That’s what she said, but I don’t think she’d be happy if I did something else (laughs).
What do you see as the system and environment differences between the K League and European leagues?
Of course, it is impossible to compare the world’s best stages and players. I’m disappointed with some of the environmental aspects. I would like to see a lot of improvements. I think the stadiums, the training grounds, the players, the coaches and the front office need to improve a lot. The moment you are satisfied, you are bound to regress, so you have to go in a direction where you can keep improving. We need to make sure that it is practiced, and part of that is obviously money. It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still not enough. I hope that we can make a long-term plan, not just a short-term plan, and make the K League a more global organization.
You’ve been watching the league for almost 30 years, but recently, for example, it seems like players are actively trying to break through one-on-one less often than in the past. What do you think about these technical aspects?
I agree. The biggest disappointment is that there aren’t many players who make a difference. There is a saying that the K League is a foreigner’s game, but Korean players lack the ability to make a difference and overwhelm their opponents when they do. For example, if you look at the Premier League, there are always two or three players in every team who make a difference. It’s the same for any team, whether it’s the top or the bottom. Korean players should play that role, but because foreign players are doing it, I think it’s disappointing for the performance. If there are more players who can break through one-on-one or create cracks, the game will be more aggressive, there will be more goals, and there will be more creative play.