Can Korean players open their way to the Spanish La Liga? Diego Simeone, coach of Atletico Madrid, announced that he would carefully examine the skills of Korean players in the Coupang Play Series against Team K League.
Atletico will play the first leg of the Coupang Play Series against Team K-League led by coach Hong Myung-bo at the Seoul World Cup Stadium at 8:00 pm on the 27th. This is the first time that Atlético, one of the top 3 teams representing Spain’s La Liga along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, has visited Korea since its founding in 1903.
Atlético, which entered Korea through Incheon International Airport on the 25th, started training in the morning at the Seongnam FC training ground on the 26th and began to adapt to Korea. On the 27th, the first leg of the Coupang Play Series against Team K League will be played, and on the 30th, the second leg will be played against Manchester City (England), who achieved the treble last season, at the same place.
Coach Simeone, who took the helm from the 2012/13 season and developed Atlético into a world-class team, announced at a pre-game press conference on the 26th that he would personally check the skills of Korean players through a match against Team K-League.
Coach Simeone has shown strong interest in Lee Kang-in, the best prospect in Korean soccer, since last winter. Lee Kang-in, who moved to Mallorca from Valencia in the 2021/22 season, showed off his outstanding skills last season and emerged as the best prospect in La Liga. He recorded double-digit offensive points by posting 6 goals and 6 assists in the league alone, and acted as Mallorca’s top ace along with forward striker Vedat Muriki.
Lee Kang-in’s performance caught the eye of world-renowned Simeone at once. It is known that Simeone showed interest in Lee Kang-en from the transfer market last winter, and actually proposed to Mallorca.
However, Mallorca could not give up Lee Kang-in, who emerged as a key player, during the season. Without revealing the exact amount of Lee Kang-in’s buyout, Atletico could not continue the proper negotiations, and the winter transfer market ended as it was.
Atletico’s interest continued into the summer. Atletico wanted to embrace Lee Kang-in, who had emerged as the best prospect in La Liga. In particular, it is known that coach Simeone strongly wanted Lee Kang-in.
Coincidentally, Lee Kang-in’s buyout set by Mallorca was known to be at the level of 25 million euros (approximately 35 billion won), and Atletico approached Mallorca by adding Rodrigo Riquelme, one of the team’s most anticipated prospects, to lower the transfer fee.
However, Mallorca only wanted a buyout payment. Negotiations hit a snag, and in the meantime, a strong competitor called Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) emerged. Considering the club’s financial situation, unlike Atlético, which was burdened with a lump sum buyout, PSG, backed by oil money from the Middle East, could easily approach Lee Kang-in.
I couldn’t help but ask about the Lee Kang-in transfer rumor that heated up Korea. When asked about Kang-in Lee, director Simeone admitted that his interest in Kang-in Lee was close to the truth. Coach Simeone said, “There were rumors that Lee Kang-in was interested in this summer, but he went to PSG anyway.”
Coach Simeone, who had witnessed the skills of Korea’s national football team’s promising Lee Kang-in, was asked whether there was another Korean player that stood out.
Coach Simeone replied, “Korean soccer continues to grow and is making a strong impression. I will take a good look at it in tomorrow’s match against Team K League.” If Simeone catches the eye, the way to advance to the La Liga will be opened.
So far, the only players who have played an active role in La Liga are Lee Chun-soo (then Real Sociedad), Baek Seung-ho (Girona) and Lee Kang-in, one of the Korean soccer legends. There were examples such as Ki Sung-yueng, who only played in one game in Mallorca, Kim Woo-hong (Real Madrid), Lee Seung-woo, and Jang Gyeol-hee (Barcelona), who grew up in the youth stage of a team belonging to La Liga, but three players who regularly took the opportunity to play in the first team was all
Players selected for the Team K-League opened the way to advance to Europe. In fact, Yang Hyeon-jun (then Gangwon FC), who was selected for the Team K-League last year and performed impressively against Tottenham Hotspur, has now achieved his dream of advancing to the European stage by transferring to Scotland Celtic.
Attention is focusing on whether a player who will advance to La Liga with impressive performances this year and become the second Lee Kang-in will come out.