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Kim Shin-wook gets look as Korea’s lone striker
By Kim Tong-hyung
Sports writers have spent the last couple of years touting Kim Shin-wook as Korean football’s next big thing. He has been that literally, but regrettably not figuratively.
Built like a basketball power forward at 1.97 meters and 93 kilograms, the 25-year-old Ulsan Hyundai striker does bring plenty of size and intrigue. But while his prolific scoring rate in the domestic professional league suggests he has the skills to exploit his frame, Kim has struggled to find the ideal balance between aggressiveness and composure at the international level, looking jumpy in some matches and drifting in and out in others.
Granted, it wouldn’t be fair to make a final judgment on Kim as a Korean international player when the sample size remains rather small.
Kim wasn’t featured in the senior national team before the arrival of Choi Kang-hee, who got the country in next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil, but displayed such an uninspiring brand of football in doing so that he was replaced by Hong Myung-bo after the qualifiers.
Since taking over the Taeguk Warriors, Hong had not been as enthusiastic about making Kim the focal point of his attack as his predecessor did. But after wasting several months on a futile striker search that left the team further devoid of offensive explosiveness, Hong appears to have rekindled his interest in Kim, hoping that his rare combination of size, athleticism and skills will finally produce tangible results.
Kim was the most notable addition to Hong’s squad summoned for a friendly against Switzerland in Seoul on Friday. Kim, who currently leads K League Classic with 19 goals, will likely be employed as the lone striker in Hong’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation, with Europe-based players Son Heung-min and Lee Chung-yong supporting him from the bench.
Talking to reporters at the national team’s training facility in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday, Kim admitted he was feeling the pressure to produce.
“I know that I need to perform better with the national team,’’ said Kim, joining the senior team for the first time since his anonymous performance at the East Asian Cup in July.
“I hadn’t been called up to the senior team in a while. But I have been studying the game and practicing harder to polish my skills, how I could adjust my style of play so that it better complements the skill set of my teammates. My focus now is to create with my feet instead of just trying to win balls in the air.’’
While there’s no denying that Kim has been underachieving at the international level, it’s debatable whether it has been entirely his fault. With the national team, Kim doesn’t get to play with skilled distributors like Japanese maestro Chikashi Masuda, his Ulsan Hyundai teammate who frequently delivers the ball when and where Kim wants it.
After the East Asian Cup, Hong expressed frustration that the towering presence of Kim seemed to inspire his Korea teammates to punt the ball in his direction instead of creating better scoring opportunities.
Despite his height advantage, Kim appears more comfortable finishing with his feet than head. Of his 19 goals in the domestic league this season, 11 of them came off his right foot.
While his duty as a lone striker requires Kim to win balls in the air and keep them until support arrives, Hong believes his midfielders and wing players could be more creative in utilizing Kim as a scoring option.
“Kim is a player of many strengths. What’s important is whether he is able to convert those strengths into results. We need to spend the next two days thinking what would be the best way to put Kim in the most likely position to succeed,’’ Hong said.
“The other nine players must be more creative when crossing in the direction of Kim. We need passes that could release him and put him in a position to score. You can’t be predictable. This is what we all have to think about.’’