When Kim Min-jae completed his move to Bayern Munich on a five-year deal on Tuesday, it not only saw the continuation of the defender’s remarkable rise but also marked the latest chapter of South Korea’s rich history in the Bundesliga.
Kim is not the first from his homeland to ply his trade in the top flight of German football.
And it might be easy to assume that there is little chance he will be the biggest South Korean success story given a couple of illustrious names that have come before him.
But there is every chance he can carve out quite a legacy with Germany’s biggest and most successful team.
Of course, South Korea’s biggest name at the moment is Son Heung-min, who did spent his formative years in the Bundesliga before joining Tottenham — after coming through at Hamburg and then spending time with Bayer Leverkusen.
Son memorably took just 24 minutes of his Bundesliga debut to notch his first goal and also had three consecutive seasons between 2012 to 2015 when he hit double digits in goals, but it was only after moving to the Premier League where he has since reached world-class status.
Going further back, the original German football pioneer for South Korea was the legendary Cha Bum-kun, who lifted both the DFB-Pokal and now-defunct UEFA Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt in back-to-back campaign starting in 1979.
Considering Cha would go on to be recognised as Asia’s best player of the 20th century, while Son is currently one of the game’s leading lights, it does seem Kim has plenty to live up to.
It must also be noted that Cha and Son, as attackers, naturally garnered more headlines and limelight while Kim spends most of his time occupied with the less-glamourous task of stopping goals from going in.
Still, it can be argued that neither Cha nor Son — who both arrived in Germany as relative unknowns before delivering on their potential in sensational fashion – did not have to deal with the pressure and scrutiny that Kim will now have to following such a high-profile move.
Signed by the 33-time record German and six-time European champions for a reported €50 million as one of their main summer transfer targets.
Earmarked as a much-needed defensive reinforcement — despite Bayern boasting the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Dayot Upamecano — after some less-than-convincing displays almost cost them a 11th consecutive Bundesliga crown last season.
For all that Cha, Son and other compatriots such as Koo Ja-cheol and Lee Jae-sung have achieved for South Korean football in the Bundesliga, none had quite as much attention as Kim will come the start of the new season.
And yet, it his past record is anything to go by, the 1.9-metre centre-back — affectionately nicknamed ‘Monster’ since his younger days — has every reason to have full faith in his own abilities.
Having initially raised a few eyebrows by making Chinese Super League outfit Beijing Guoan his first overseas stint back in 2019 — a move that was then perhaps unfairly suggested as more motivated financially — Kim would eventually prove ready for European football when he signed for Turkish giants Fenerbahce at the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
After just one season, he would move on to Serie A and there were initially plenty of doubters over his ability to replace Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli.
Instead, he would go on to play a pivotal role in the Partenopei‘s first Scudetto since a certain Diego Maradona led them to glory in 1990 — winning the competition’s Best Defender award and also being named in the Team of the Season.
His superb displays in the heart of the Napoli defence have now earned him a third move in as many summers.
While, on one hand, Kim has now continued a rich history of South Korean stars in the Bundesliga, the 26-year-old also has every chance to carve his own legacy — one unlike any that his compatriots that have come before him managed to.
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