Bordeaux's bargain Hwang Ui-jo takes on PSG's stars
When Bordeaux visit Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday they will counter the home team's costly collection of stars with a player they picked up cheaply last summer.
Hwang Ui-jo was approaching his 27th birthday when Bordeaux bought him from Gamba Osaka in Japan for just two million euros last July.
He has scored five goals and caught the eye with his technique and work rate.
Hwang was not even in South Korea's squad for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Fans in South Korea were disappointed when Hwang was named one of three over age players for the Asian Games squad later that summer.
Oh Jae-suk, a South Korean international who was a team-mate in Osaka, defended Hwang.
"Ui-jo is a striker with many strengths," Oh told Korea Daily at the time.
"He's a style of player who runs a lot, and he focuses a lot more when he's given a chance to score. After he got added to the Asian Games team, he quit surfing the web, has only been thinking about football and is hoping to help the team."
The focus paid off. Hwang scored nine goals in seven matches as South Korea won the tournament.
He also scored 31 goals in 71 matches in two seasons with Osaka and Bordeaux made their move.
His first three goals for his new club were from outside the box each more beautiful than the last. His last two, including the opener in a 2-2 draw with Amiens last week, with his head.
Not bad for player on a new continent, who hardly speaks French and has not had a break since January last year and has to fly half way round the world on every international break to play for his country.
The club have been quick to exploit the potential of a new market. For their derby match against Nantes in November, a match broadcast live in South Korea they added the players' names in Korean on the back of the shirts. Sales in South Korea have risen sharply.
Bordeaux Coach Paulo Sousa says language is not a problem.
"The squad is fantastic with him, helps him a lot with his integration and we are very happy with everything he's doing."
Sousa said he is in contact with former Portugal team-mate Paulo Bento, the coach of South Korea about Hwang.
"He's the player in the squad who makes the most breaks, with the highest intensity, with early calls and good timing," Sousa adding that there are areas where Hwang could be better.
"He needs to improve in the final area, either through dribbling, centring or shooting. He needs to be icier to make the best decision. That's the difference between a good player and a top player."
Former Bordeaux and France striker Philippe Fargeon compared the work Hwang does when the opposition has the ball with Edinson Cavani.
"It's always good for a team to see a striker doing that job," Fargeon said. "Look at Cavani, who is a striker, who doesn't necessarily take part in the development of the game but who is very popular with his colleagues because they know they can count on him as their first defensive line of defence."
On Sunday, depending on how PSG shuffle their aces, Hwang could even find himself going toe-to-toe with Cavani.
© 2020 AFP