Who is David Ki?
While riding the subway home from an FC Seoul match a few years ago, a brassy young Korean lad seized the chance to practise his decent level of English with the foreigner sitting next to him. With no warning or greeting, he asked me, “Do you know David Ki?” Coming from a smallish town in a small country like Wales, you get asked this question a lot; of course, to foreigners, being from Wales means you must know every other Welshman. I assumed this was one of those types of question- “He’s a foreigner in my country, he must know all the other foreigners,”- and politely informed my interrogator that, no, I did not know David ‘Key.’
Had he had used the person in question’s real name from the start, our conversation wouldn’t have got off to such a stuttering start because in actual fact, yes, I was very aware of David Ki- and many more Welshman are also about to become familiar with him, too.
David was the name used by new Swansea City signing Ki SungYueng while living and studying in Australia. Ki headed Down Under at the age of 14 and Wales- or at least, Welshman and Lost Boyo Jeff Hopkins- was to have an early influence on his football career. There he attended Queensland’s John Paul College and spent time training under current Brisbane Roar assistant manager Hopkins.
After graduating school, he returned home to South Korea and signed his first professional contract with K-League team FC Seoul. In 2007, FC Seoul’s Turkish manager Senol Gunes began to place his faith in both Ki and Bolton Wanderers’ winger Lee ChungYong as Seoul finished just outside the end of season play-offs.
In the following season, both Ki and Lee played important roles as FC Seoul finished K-League runners-up. Only goal difference could separate Seoul from rivals Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the end of the regular season, Suwon edging the top spot that guaranteed a place in the play-off final by just three goals. FC Seoul booked their place in the final by defeating Ulsan Hyundai 4-2 in extra-time. Ki played in both legs of the final. In Seoul, Suwon got a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw, then sealed the title with a 2-1 win in the snowy return leg at home.
Midway through the 2009 season, it was announced that Ki would be moving to Celtic. He did see out the season with Seoul as they again made the end of season play-offs, this time finishing third overall. They failed to make it to the Championship game this time, though; Ki was one of three FC Seoul players to miss in a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw with Chunnam Dragons. Ki was elected, as he had been the previous season, into the K-League’s ‘Best Eleven‘ for the 2009 season.
At the end of the season, Ki headed off to Scotland to join Celtic. His Scottish Premier League debut came in a 1-1 home draw with Falkirk in January 2010 and he played ten league games that season, earning himself the second league runners-up medal of his short career.
In the 2010-11 season, Ki played a larger role in Celtic’s season. Despite spending several weeks away at the Asian Cup, Ki started 18 league games and featured in 26 games in total. At the end of the season, he was a league third runner-in four seasons. There was also a League Cup runners-up medal, but Ki did collect his second cup winners’ medal when Celtic defeated Motherwell 3-0 in the Scottish Cup Final. Ki opened the scoring and collected the man-of-the-match award at the final whistle.
2011-12 saw Ki finally pick up a first league winners’ medal. With no international tournaments to interrupt his season, Ki played 30 times in the league, as Celtic took full advantage of Rangers’ increasing off-the-field struggles to seal a first title since 2007. Ki’s burgeoning collection of runners-up medals continued to grow, though, with Celtic losing both the League Cup and FA Cup finals.
At the end of the season, Ki joined up with his country’s Olympic squad and played a major role in his country’s best ever Olympic football finish. Ki was ever-present in the tournament that began with Korea just about having the better of a 0-0 draw with eventual gold medallists Mexico. A win over Switzerland and a draw with Gabon put the Koreans into the quarter-finals.
There, they were paired with hosts Great Britain. At the Millenium Stadium, Korea dominated the early exchanges and were probably the better side over the full 120 minutes. The first eight penalties were scored before Daniel Sturridge missed Team GB’s fifth. It was Ki who was given the responsibility of taking the deciding fifth and he confidently fired past Jack Butland to put his team into the semis.
Korea were comprehensively beaten by Brazil in the last four, but, back at the Millennium Stadium, they defeated regional rivals Japan in the Bronze Medal Match to complete Korea’s first ever Olympic football podium finish.
Cardiff was the high point of an already long international career for Ki. He made his debut in a September 2008 friendly against Jordan then scored in each of his next two international appearances, against North Korea and Uzbekistan.
In the proceeding four years, Ki has collected 47 full caps and played in both the 2011 Asian Cup, where Korea finished third, and the 2010 World Cup.
Who are the Swans getting?
Ki, Swansea’s new record signing, will become the tenth Korean player to play in the Premier League. The level of success achieved by those ten players has been mixed, from Park JiSung with titles to Lee DongKuk, the K-League’s record goalscorer, who only managed a single goal in more than 30 appearances for Middlesborough, or Park ChuYoung who has been unable to force his way into the Arsenal since transferring from Monaco last summer. Of those that have failed, Ki is unlikely to suffer from problems that have affected those Koreans that have failed in England.
Since his professional debut for FC Seoul, Ki has developed into an all-around midfielder. In his early K-League years, Ki usually played as the more attacking of a midfield pairing alongside either the more defensively-minded veteran Lee Eul-Yong or Kim HanYoon, or the younger Kim ChiWoo.
It was initially with the National Team that Ki began to take up the deeper playmaking role he know usually occupies. Under three consecutive managers- Huh JeongMoo, Cho KwangRae, and current manager Choi KangHee- Ki has been the playmaker alongside a more orthodox box-to-box midfielder (initially Kim JungWoo, then Lee YongRae, before Kim returned to the team under Choi). Ki has the short passing ability to fit in with the Swans’ style of play, but is also capable of playing longer, more direct passes that his team may need from time-to-time.
Following his time in Australia and his years playing for Celtic, Ki will be used to the culture in South Wales. Likewise, Ki’s years in the Scottish Premier League will have gone some way to preparing him for the physicality in the English top flight, and he certainly could not be accused of shirking the game’s physical side; in the bronze medal match, Ki picked up an early yellow card for a ‘reducer’ on Japan’s dangerman Yuki Otsu
A small criticism of Ki, despite his ever deepening role in the teams he plays in, could be that he does not score enough goals. Ki possesses a thunderous shot and is able to score with both feet. Given this shooting talent, it’s perhaps a little disappointing how few goals he grabs.
Ki is also very likely to be a of great commercial value despite Asian football having come forward dramatically in recent years, the question of “How many shirts will he sell?” continues to be asked when an Asian player moves to or within Europe. Korea was watching Swansea’s opening 2012-13 Premier League fixture with anticipation given that the nation biggest sporting hero, Park JiSung, was making his as captain of the opposition, QPR. Few of the watching Korean football fans- including, allegedly, Ki himself- could fail to have been impressed by the Swans’ performance, and Ki’s arrival will only improve the team’s appeal in Korea.
Ki may lack Park JiSung’s medals, but he does have something not even Korea’s greatest footballer is lucky enough to possess – looks. Ki’s boyish features give him the look of a K-Pop boyband member, and the Olympic success of Ki and his teammates has raised his profile beyond football fans and into the Korean public mainstream.
If there is a downside to Ki’s transfer, it is that this young man has already played a lot of football in his fledgling career. He played the whole of the 2009 K-League season with FC Seoul, and then went straight into the SPL , although he was used somewhat sparingly in that first season at Celtic. Since then, Ki has played almost constant football. At the end of that 2009-10 season, Ki headed to South Africa with the National Team for the 2010 World Cup. He played a larger role at Celtic Park the following season, which included a mid-season departure to the Middle East for the Asian Cup, reaching the semi-finals. In this most recent season, Ki featured in 30 of his sides’33 league games, before his successful summer at the Olympics.
On paper, the positives of Ki SungYueng’s signature far outweigh the negatives for Swansea. The fee is not excessive, and Michael Laudrup’s men are getting a talented player who should have minimal problems adapting to South Wales, the Premier League, or the Swans’ style of play.