‘KFA Player of the Year’ surprises even Germany

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“Kim Min-jae stops Son Heung-min from winning back-to-back awards”

Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich) has been named South Korean Footballer of the Year, beating out Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur) to the honor.

“Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae was named South Korea’s footballer of the year for the first time, ending Son Heung-min’s remarkable run of consecutive awards,” Germany’s largest soccer publication Kicker reported on Feb. 2 (KST).

The Korea Football Association (KFA) announced in a press release on Feb. 2 that “Kim Min-jae and Chun Ga-ram have been named the ‘Korea Football Association Player of the Year’ for 2023.”

The KFA held the ‘2023 KFA Awards’ at the Mayfield Hotel in Seoul. With more than 200 people in attendance, including soccer officials and national team players, the association announced a new value system to guide the direction of Korean soccer and presented awards in major categories, including Player of the Year.

The Player of the Year award recognizes the South Korean men’s and women’s soccer players who have performed the best for their respective teams over the past year. The award, which has been voted on by the Korea Football Association since 2010, was given to a panel of experts and soccer journalists, and Kim received the most votes to win his first ever award. Among the women’s players, Chun Garam (Hwacheon KSPO) was selected.

According to the KFA, 50 people, including the heads of football departments of KFA-affiliated media outlets, the association’s technical development committee and the national strength and conditioning committee, voted for the award, and Kim Min-jae, who finished second for the second year in a row behind Son Heung-min, the captain of the South Korean national team, won his first award with a total of 137 points in the 2021 and 2022 voting.

Son, who has been named Player of the Year for the past four consecutive years and is the most decorated player of all time (seven times), finished second with 113 points. In third place was Lee Kang-in (PSG) with 84 points. Kim Min-jae edged out Son Heung-min for the award, marking the first time in eight years that a defender has been named Player of the Year since Kim Young-kwon in 2015.

The results of the Player of the Year voting in South Korea caught the attention of Germany. They expressed surprise that Munich’s key defender, Kim Min-jae, won the award over Son Heung-min, one of the best strikers in the world beyond Korea.

“The new year 2024 begins with a very special message for Kim Min-jae,” the outlet said, noting that Kim broke a ‘small tradition’ in South Korea by winning the soccer player of the year award, preventing Son Heung-min from winning the award for the fifth consecutive year.

“Son, who played for Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen, has won a record number of awards in South Korea,” he said. “Before winning the award four years in a row from 2019 to 2022, he was named South Korea’s best soccer player in 2013, 2013 and 2017.”

“This year, PSG (Paris Saint-Germain)’s Lee Kang-in also crossed the finish line after Kim Min-jae,” he added, noting the rise of South Korea’s newest soccer star.

Kim Min-jae left Fenerbahçe in the summer of 2022 and headed to Italy’s Serie A, one of Europe’s top five leagues. His destination was SSC Napoli, a club famous for having once played for legendary soccer player Diego Maradona.

Kim Min-jae has moved every year of his career in Europe, starting with his move to Fenerbahçe of the Turkkiye Super Lig in 2021. It wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough, but because he was too good for the league.

After conquering the Ligue 1 with Fenerbahçe, Kim immediately caught the attention of big European clubs. Napoli, who made an aggressive pitch, paid a buyout of €18 million (approximately $25.8 billion) to sign Kim. Selected as a replacement for Napoli legend Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal), who left for Chelsea, Kim had a breakthrough season in Serie A, one of the biggest leagues in Europe.

With Kim’s tremendous speed and physicality, coupled with his excellent feet, Luciano Spalletti pushed Napoli’s line up high. The result is a dynamic style of soccer that is quite aggressive and leads to quick transitions. Napoli’s attack, centered around Victor Osimhen (Nigeria) and Hvitsa Kvaračelia (Georgia), shone, and the team won the Scudetto (the shield awarded for winning Serie A) for the first time in 33 years.

During the 2022-23 season, Kim anchored the Napoli defense, playing a whopping 3,878 minutes in 45 games across all competitions. His performance helped Napoli win the Serie A title and reach the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in club history, and after the season, the Serie A secretariat named Kim the best defender of the season. In December, the Italian Football Players’ Association (AIC) included Kim in its Team of the Year for the 2022-23 season.

Kim joined Munich in the summer transfer window. Napoli’s €50 million buyout clause (a clause that prevents clubs from negotiating a transfer if they pay a certain amount of money) was paid by Munich, and he signed a five-year contract through the summer of 2028 for €12 million a year in private negotiations. It was a well-deserved reward for the Serie A’s best defender.

In Munich, Kim quickly established himself as a starter and started every game. In fact, he played so many games without a break that there were concerns in Germany about his overload. He made 15 consecutive full-time starts before being sidelined with a hip bruise in the Champions League group stage in November.

His consistently good performances at Napoli and then Munich cemented his status as one of the best defenders in Europe. In the 2023 Ballon d’Or voting, which recognizes the best player of the year, Kim was ranked 22nd.

The British publication The Guardian included Kim in its list of the 100 best male soccer players in the world in 2023. This is the first time that Kim has been included in the Guardian’s annual list of the 100 best soccer players, and he was ranked 37th on the first list, proving that he is a world-class defender.

Sportskida, a global sports publication, also ranked Kim at the top of its list of the world’s five best center backs in 2023. “Gone are the days when center backs only defend. In modern football, in addition to solid defense, center backs are expected to participate in the buildup and inject fluidity and creativity. Kim Min-jae contributes greatly to this aspect of the game.”

“Kim played a huge role in Napoli’s first Serie A title in 33 years. His natural physicality, composure, and skill stood out as strengths. After his move to Munich, he secured a regular spot in the starting lineup and excelled,” he said.

It couldn’t have been a better year for Kim, who beat out national team captain and world-class striker Son Heung-min to win the KFA’s Footballer of the Year award.

Voted the best Korean male footballer of 2023, Kim said on the podium, “I am honored to receive such a great award. I’m grateful to the many fans who supported me day and night in every match of my club and national team last season,” he said, adding, “I will prepare well for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup and do well, so please give me your support.”

Jürgen Klinsmann’s South Korea national football team has named world-class center back Kim Min-jae to its final roster ahead of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, which kicks off in Qatar on June 12. Klinsmann’s squad is currently in training camp in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they will be acclimatizing and making final preparations.

With 24 Asian nations competing at the Asian Cup, Klinsmann’s goal is to win the tournament. Korea has won back-to-back titles at the inaugural edition in Hong Kong in 1956 and the second edition in South Korea in 1960, but hasn’t finished on top of the Asian Cup in the 64 years since, despite being nicknamed the ‘Asian juggernaut’.

In particular, this year’s edition of the tournament will feature a number of players from Europe, including Kim Min-jae, Son Heung-min, and Lee Kang-in, so expectations are higher than ever.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Player of the Year was voted on by the WK League managers, the women’s national team coaching staff, and the KFA’s full-time women’s coaches. In a close race, Chun was the winner with a total of 20 points, edging out previous winner Ji So-yeon (Suwon FC) by one point.

Playing primarily as a flanking midfielder, Chun has emerged as the new ace of the women’s national team, scoring four goals in 12 A-match appearances, including at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and the Asian Games. In the WK League, she also played a key role in helping her club, Hwacheon KSPO, to a second-place finish in the regular season, the team’s highest ever finish.

“I didn’t expect to receive this award so soon, so it feels like a dream,” said Chun. I will be a player who never forgets to be grateful because I know that it is not my achievement alone,” said Chun. “I think it is a reward for the things I have worked hard on in the past year, and I hope to reap the rewards of my hard work in the future.”

The KFA also confirmed the winners of the 2023 Young Player, Coach and Referee awards. The Young Player Award, which recognizes up-and-coming male and female players, went to Hangzhou Asian Games gold medalist Hwang Jae-won (Daegu FC) and Casey Eugene Fair (Independent), who established herself as the future of the national team by becoming the youngest player in Women’s World Cup history.

Hwang Jae-won said, “I am grateful to receive this honor. I will work even harder in the future,” Hwang said, expressing his gratitude and determination. “I’m proud to play for Korea and thank the Korea Football Association for the opportunity,” said Fair. I will work hard to achieve good results in 2024,” he said.

Coach of the Year honors went to Kim Ki-dong, who led the Pohang Steelers to the FA Cup and K League Cup runners-up, and Kim Eun-sook, who led the WK League to a record 11th consecutive title. The Referee of the Year Award went to Ko Hyung-jin and Park Sang-jun (men’s main and assistant referees) and Oh Hyun-jung and Kim Kyung-min (women’s main and assistant referees), respectively.

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