Ji’s EPL dream comes true with Sunderland

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Ji’s EPL dream comes true with Sunderland

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Ji Dong-won

Korean football prodigy Ji Dong-won is set to be the youngest Korean ever to play in the English Premier League after his club, Chunnam Dragons, announced yesterday that it has agreed to a fee and terms with Sunderland AFC.

The K-League club said in an official statement that it has accepted an offer from the Premier League club. It also said the player will officially sign a contract after passing a physical later this month. Ji, who is currently with the Korean Olympic team, is expected to go to England after the London Olympic Asia qualifier against Jordan tonight.

Chunnam said that two teams have agreed not to disclose the transfer fee or Ji’s salary but according to several media reports, Sunderland will pay a $3.5 million transfer fee and an annual salary of $1 million.

Sources said that Sunderland, which finished 10th in the English Premier League last season, originally offered $1.3 million, but as competition for the 20-year-old striker heated up among other European clubs, such as PSV Eindhoven and Schalke 04, the English club raised the fee and made a final offer to Chunnam on Monday. The K-League club said losing such a promising prospect will leave a big gap but will release Ji to allow him to progress as a player.

“For the sake of the player’s future and for the development of Korean football, we decided to allow his move,” Chunnam said in a statement. “We also tried our utmost to find the most suitable team for the player.”

If Ji successfully passes the physical and signs with Sunderland, he will be the youngest Korean footballer in history to play in England’s top football division. The striker is one year younger than Lee Chung-yong, who made his move to the Bolton Wanders in 2009.

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Ji will also be the eighth Korean to play in the Premier League. Since Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung and former Tottenham Hotspur left back Lee Young-pyo opened the door for Koreans in 2005, five other players - Seol Ki-hyeon, Lee Dong-gook, Kim Do-heon, Cho Won-hee and Lee Chung-yong - have played in the Premier League, but only Park and Lee Chung-yong are still there.

Ji, who was the runner up in K-League rookie of the year voting last season after scoring eight goals and getting four assists, became a football sensational when he netted two late second-half goals for Korea during the Asian Games’ third-place match against Iran last year. And in January this year he scored four goals in the Asian Cup.

The striker, who has six goals in 11 international matches, told reporters on Tuesday that he will first focus on the match against Jordan for the Olympic qualifiers but will be happy if he goes to Sunderland.

“It’s the big league that everybody wants to play in,” Ji told reporters in Amman on Tuesday. “I get the impression that Sunderland really want me.”

When asked what his goals would be when he actually signs for Sunderaland, the player said “I know there will be stiff competition for playing time but my goal is to become the player that the team wants me to be in six months.”

The striker also said he is looking forward to playing against the league’s current Koreans, Park and Lee.

Football experts say if Ji wants to succeed in England, he first needs to adapt to English football and communicate with other players.

The Korean already has some experience with English football. In 2007 he was invited to play for Reading FC’s youth team and spent 10 months there, but Ji hopes to have a better experience this time.

“I’m not going to have the same experience as I did at Reading,” Ji said.

If Ji signs with Sunderland this month, he will join the English club’s preseason training camp in Germany and will play against Hannover 96 and Arminia Bielefeld before travelling with the team to Liverpool for their opening game of the Premier League season.


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]
선덜랜드행 확정 지동원이 먼저 잡을 자, 동료 기안·캠벨
이적 발표 … 3년 계약에 49억원
최전방 공격수 자리 놓고 경쟁
영입설 리버풀 은고그도 맞수지동원
지동원(20)의 잉글랜드 프리미어리그 선덜랜드행이 확정됐다. 이젠 경쟁자인 아사모아 기안(26)과 프레이저 캠벨(24)을 넘는 일만 남았다.

 전남은 22일 “지동원이 선덜랜드와 3년 계약을 체결하기로 했다”며 “요르단과 올림픽 예선 2차전을 마치고 현지에서 곧바로 잉글랜드로 이동해 메디컬 테스트를 받는다”고 공식 발표했다. 메디컬 테스트를 통과하면 6월 말께 정식 계약을 체결한다. 구체적인 계약 내용은 밝히지 않았지만 이적료 350만 달러(약 38억원), 연봉 100만 달러(약 11억원)를 받는 것으로 알려졌다.

 기안과 캠벨이 넘기 힘든 산은 아니다. 기안은 지난 7일 열린 A매치 한국-가나전에 가나 대표팀 공격수로 나서 국내 팬들에게도 낯설지 않은 선수다. 지난 시즌 33경기에 출전해 11골을 기록하며 선덜랜드 주전 공격수로 자리를 잡았다. 수비수 뒷공간을 파고드는 침투 능력과 몸싸움이 강점이다.

 잉글랜드 출신의 캠벨은 지난 2004년 맨체스터 유나이티드에 입단해 헐시티(2007~2008), 토트넘(2008~2009)을 거쳐 2009년 선덜랜드로 이적해 왔다. 부상으로 지난해에는 3경기 출전에 그쳤다. 다양한 포지션을 소화할 수 있는 장점이 있지만 부상에서 복귀한 지 얼마 안 돼 활약 여부는 미지수다.

 선덜랜드의 추가 영입이 변수다. 최근 미드필더 조던 헨더슨(21)을 리버풀로 이적시키며 2000만 파운드(약 350억원)에 달하는 이적료를 챙긴 선덜랜드는 오프시즌 대대적인 공격진 개편에 나섰다. 리버풀 공격수 다비드 은고그(22)가 이적해올 가능성이 크다. 영국 대중지 ‘뉴스오브더월드’는 지난 13일(한국시간) “선덜랜드가 은고그 영입에 합의했다”고 전하기도 했다.

 한준희 KBS 해설위원은 “은고그는 큰 키(1m90cm)에 발재간이 뛰어나 지동원과 흡사한 플레이 스타일이다. 이적해온다면 가장 강력한 경쟁자가 될 것으로 본다”고 말했다.

 전문가들은 지동원이 프리미어리그의 빠른 스피드에 적응해야 한다고 입을 모았다. 조광래 대표팀 감독은 “플레이를 서두르기보다 생각의 속도를 높이는 게 중요하다. 선덜랜드 미드필더진의 특성을 빨리 파악해 협력 플레이를 펼쳐야 한다”고 말했다. 박문성 SBS 해설위원은 “볼 터치를 최대한 줄여 속도감을 높여야 동료의 빠른 패스를 받을 수 있다”고 조언했고, 김대길 KBS N 해설위원은 “미리 움직이고 자리를 선점하는 방법으로 스피드를 따라가야 한다”고 강조했다.


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