Premier League future looks bright for Hwang Hee-chan
Hwang Hee-chan has established himself so quickly at Wolverhampton Wanderers that manager Bruno Lage is rumored to already be pushing the club to exercise their right to outright purchase the Korean striker.
Hwang joined Wolves at the end of August on loan for the entirety of the 2021-22 season, with the club reportedly maintaining the option to buy Hwang for £12 million ($16.6 million). Since then, the young striker has scored four goals in eight games, even making it onto the scoresheet during his very first match.
Hwang, who is known as The Bull for his relentlessly aggressive style of play, has quickly become a fan favorite, with media pundits also heaping praise on the forward each week. The fact that Hwang has a very different approach to countryman Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur — relying on strength and persistence rather than speed and agility — has only added to the interest.
The Korean striker looked to have added another goal during Wolves' 2-1 win over Everton on Monday, but his contribution was later disallowed after a video assistant referee review. Still, Hwang was again praised for his role in the game and credited with a number of key opportunities during his 90 minutes on the pitch.
Hwang's arrival in Wolverhampton was initially met with some skepticism. The Bull arrived in the Premier League after playing for RB Leipzig last year, having an uncharacteristically quiet season with no goals scored in only 18 appearances.
Hwang's season was disrupted after he contracted Covid-19 while appearing with the Korean national team in Austria in November, but he still made a name for himself as a playmaker with the German side. For Wolverhampton Wanderers fans looking at a sheet of stats, however, The Bull didn't look like a particularly impressive acquisition.
But dig a little deeper and there was a lot of indicators in Hwang's early career that he had more to offer than last season's numbers suggest.
Before joining Leipzig, Hwang was part of a very strong Salzburg team, scoring 16 goals and picking up 22 assists during the 2019-20 season. Wolves reportedly tried to sign Hwang at the end of that season, but the deal fell through when the club opted to sign Daniel Podence instead.
Hwang scored three Champions League goals in six appearances with Salzburg that season, including scoring a goal and picking up an assist against Liverpool on Oct. 2, 2019.
If it is true that Lage is already pushing Wolves to exercise their purchase option, it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Throughout Hwang's time with the club, the manager has repeatedly emphasized that the Korean striker is performing exactly as well as Lage always knew he would.
“[Hwang is] doing well," Lage said after Hwang scored against Leeds at the end of October. "We knew when we brought him, we knew the quality of the player because we followed him for three or four years and we are happy."
If Wolverhampton don't choose to purchase Hwang within the year, they're likely to face some serious competition when the loan ends. Hwang's impact on the league has already turned a lot of heads and there's a good chance that some big budget clubs could be willing to throw their hat into a potential future transfer ring.
In the meantime, Hwang is able to keep doing what he does best — chasing goals in one of the top league's in the world. But first Hwang will be headed back to Korea to rejoin the national team for two qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, against the United Arab Emirates on Oct. 11 and Iraq on Oct. 16.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]