Despite disability, Jeju United forward excelsJeuju United forward Kim Eun-jung, blind in one eye and once written off by his critics as a mediocre player, is back in the K-League and playing better than ever. The 31-year-old is in his prime and playing the best football of his career.
Kim has netted a total of 14 goals this season with 10 goals and five assists in the past 10 games (including cup tournament games). In the FA Cup quarterfinals against Seongnam Ilhwa, Kim scored two goals to lead Jeju to a 2-0 win.
“When I was younger, I merely thought playing energetic was good enough,” said Kim. “With experience, I’ve naturally learned to position myself better during games.”
Critics who had dismissed Kim are taking notice of Kim’s resurgence. During the late 1990s, Kim, along with Lee Dong-gook, was lauded as the hottest forward prospect in Korea. He broke into the K-League with the Daejeon Citizens in 1997 and was selected to the U-20 and U-23 national teams and scored five goals in 15 games for the Taegeuk Warriors between 1998 and 2004, but over time, he was pegged as merely a serviceable forward in the domestic league. With diminished interest, Kim ended up joining the Changsha Ginde of the Chinese Super League last season.
“I wouldn’t say that my skills have improved as a forward,” said Kim. “But my ability to read the game and my positioning has gotten better. I should add that I couldn’t have scored all those goals without the help of my teammates.”
Jeju United’s manager Park Kyung-hoon is pleased with Kim’s production this season. After being hired as the new manager of the club last winter, Park signed Kim to shore up his young roster.
“When I first arrived in Jeju, I noticed the team had a lot of young players,” said Park. “We needed a veteran player who can provide stability for the young and inexperienced players. Kim Eun-joong was the man tabbed to take on that role.”
Park proceeded to hand over the captain position previously held by national team defender Cho Yong-hyung to Kim. The veteran forward, in turn, has lived up to his manager’s expectations.
“Kim is definitely not the same player I remember from the past,” said Park. “As the captain of the team, he has played the bridge role between the coaching staff and the players.”
Having recorded 91 goals in the K-League over his career, Kim has his eyes set on reaching the 100 mark by the end of the season. Of course, it’s not lost on Kim that Lee is also closing in on the mark with 94 goals.
“I don’t necessarily see Lee as a rival,” said Kim. “Reaching 100 goals is a big accomplishment. Whoever reaches the mark, I hope one of us reaches the feat by the end of this season.
“I would like to lead the league in scoring but that does not mean it’s possible,” said Kim. “The same can be said about the national team. But I do think that I can do a better job than in the past.”
By Jang Chi-hyeok, Jason Kim [email@example.com]
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