S. Korean defender Kim Min-jae joins German champions Bayern Munich

July 19, 2023

South Korean defender Kim Min-jae has joined German football giants Bayern Munich, a move that ends weeks of speculation on the next destination for the gifted center back.

Bayern Munich announced Tuesday (German time) that they have signed Kim away from Serie A champions Napoli to a five-year contract. Kim will wear No. 3.

Bayern Munich will be Kim’s fourth club in four seasons. After ending a three-year stint with Beijing Guoan in 2021, Kim moved to Turkiye to play for Fenerbahce in the 2021-2022 season. Then it was off to Napoli for the 2022-2023 campaign, with Kim helping the club win their first Italian top flight title in 33 years.

Kim was also named the best defender of Serie A, an honor that further drove up the stock for the 26-year-old.

Though Bayern Munich didn’t disclose the financial details of the deal, the transfer fee for Kim is believed to have been 50 million euros (US$56 million). That would be the biggest transfer fee for an Asian player in European football, surpassing the 30 million euros commanded by Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min.

“FC Bayern is a dream for every footballer. I’m really looking forward to what’s to come in Munich,” Kim was quoted as saying on the German club’s website. “It’s a new beginning for me. I’ll continue to develop here. In discussions with the club, it was made clear to me from the start how interested they are in me. My first goal is to play a lot of games. In addition, I want to win as many trophies as possible.”

Offering a rare combination of physicality, speed and high-end skills, Kim is considered one of the top center backs in Europe. He had also reportedly drawn interest from Manchester United in the Premier League, but ultimately signed for Bayern Munich, who have won the past 11 Bundesliga titles and have also collected multiple trophies at domestic cup competitions and continental events.

Kim will likely partner with Dutch international Matthijs de Ligt in central defense for Bayern Munich.

In his lone Italian season, Kim, listed at 190 centimeters tall, won 92 aerial duels, second only to Alessandro Buongiorno of Torino (99) among defenders. Kim scored both of his goals last season with his head.

In 35 Serie A appearances, an opponent dribbled past Kim only five times — the fewest among all Serie A players with at least 24 matches. Among those who logged at least 550 minutes during the 2022-2023 Champions League, Kim was one of just two defenders never to be beaten by an opponent off the dribble.

When Kim, nicknamed “Monster,” wasn’t defending, he also excelled at starting buildup play for his club last season. He posted an excellent pass completion rate of 91 percent in all competitions last season. In Europe’s big five leagues — Italy, England, Germany, Spain and France — Kim led all outfield players with 1,057 forward passes last season and ranked third with 2,547 passes that reached their target.

“He impresses with his physical presence, as well as his mentality and speed,” Bayern Munich CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen said. “We’re pleased he can immediately take part fully in pre-season and firmly believe that he will also excite our fans with his style of play.”

Multiple reports out of Europe claimed in recent weeks that Kim had already completed his medical with the German team while in South Korea. Kim completed his military training earlier this month in his homeland, part of the bargain after being granted exemption from the mandatory service in the armed forces by winning the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

The club posted a video titled “Behind the Scenes at Minjae Kim’s Medical,” showing Bayern officials traveling to South Korea to run some tests on the player and presenting Kim with team gear.

Photos of Kim in Germany first circulated in social media early Tuesday, leading to speculation that Bayern’s announcement was imminent.

Hours before the transfer became official, Kim took to social media to thank his Napoli teammates and supporters.

“To my passionate club Napoli, Mister Spalletti, my teammates, and above all to Napoli fans, I would like to express my gratitude,” Kim wrote on Instagram, referring to Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti. “No matter where I will be or no matter where I go, I will remember Napoli and cheer for you.”

Kim, who made his professional debut with South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in 2017, becomes the third South Korean in the Bundesliga, joining Lee Jae-sung of Mainz 05, and Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart.