Editor’s Note: Ryan Walters is the head of English content for KLeague.com as well as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of K League United, a site dedicated to providing in depth English-language coverage of K League 1, K League 2, and the Korean National Team. The Seoul-based writer is also the host of the K League United Podcast, a weekly podcast showcasing Korean football domestically and throughout Asia. He’s been covering K League in depth since Hwang In-beom’s debut with Daejeon Citizen in 2015, and is here to give us the low-down on Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s new midfielder.
What type of player is he?
From the early stages of his career, Hwang In-beom rightly drew comparisons to long time Korean national teamer and current Newcastle United midfielder Ki Sung-yueng. Much like his older counterpart, Hwang is a versatile midfielder who has proven capable in a variety of roles. Having played as a holding midfielder in his early years, the 22-year-old is extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet and rarely concedes possession.
Playing from the back at such a young age helped him develop a tendency to push the play forward and an ability to pick out positive, attack-minded passes from wherever he receives the ball. These are habits that eventually moved him into a deep-lying playmaker role and one that continues to serve him well in his current position as a more attacking midfielder with the Korean national team. He doesn’t have a gaudy stat sheet with goals and assists piling up, but that’s largely because he’s often the one to start the play that eventually results with the ball in the back of the net.
What is his best position?
This is still somewhat up for debate. Hwang is capable of playing in a number of spots, but his pace, passing accuracy, and vision are best utilized as an attacking No. 8, possibly even a No. 10 depending on the setup. He’s more than willing to directly take on defenders and create chances on his own, or create space for the forwards and wingers to run into. Hwang also tracks back exceptionally well and is a capable tackler in his own right, unafraid to go in hard despite his slim frame. His defensive abilities help shield the backline from being exposed on the counter attack and lead me to believe he’ll be deployed as an 8 instead of a traditional 10.
What is his military status?
After a somewhat down 2017, Hwang made the unusual decision to complete his compulsory military service far earlier than most of his Korean counterparts. While the majority of players join a military team in one of the top two divisions in their late 20s, Hwang decided to transfer to military team Asan Mugunghwa at 21 years of age to complete his duty sooner rather than later. The move came as something of a shock considering Portuguese side Benfica were rumored to be in for the midfielder just a year earlier. The decision paid off, with Hwang vastly improving his game at Asan playing alongside and learning from veteran national teamer midfielders Lee Myung-joo and Ju Se-jong. In the end, he only had to complete one of two years of military service as he earned exemption for winning gold at the Asian Games in the summer of 2018.
What is his potential?
At just 22, Hwang In-beom has already become a key factor in manager Paulo Bento’s South Korean side and with Ki Sung-yueng recently announcing his retirement from international football, he seems set to stay there if he can keep improving his game. His mental and tactical abilities are already of international quality and will only improve making the jump from Korea’s second division to the much faster paced MLS. Additionally, playing abroad for the first time in a very physical league should help Hwang make the jump from promising youngster to midfield linchpin. With the Whitecaps beating out a number of European teams already vying for his services, I expect Hwang to eventually make the jump to Europe after a few seasons in Vancouver. The difference being the price tag associated with his transfer and the stature of the clubs fighting for his signature.