SKorea Hwang star shines in EPL after tough time in Germany
It was a game that propelled Erling Haaland into the footballer’s broader awareness, earned Takumi Minamino a dream transfer to the Premier League, and made American coach Jesse Marsh go viral with a moving speech filled with expletives at halftime.
Salzburg’s comeback against Liverpool in an epic Champions League match two years ago also stood out for another reason – making Liverpool’s tireless central defender Virgil van Dijk look human.
Hwang Hee-chan is the latest South Korean player to make a splash in the Premier League due to his successful start to life on loan at Wolverhampton this season. However, he has already made himself known to the English fans by the way he let Van Dijk swing and sprawl out on the grass with a spin and hit the far corner leading to Salzburg’s 3-0-3-3 recovery at Anfield in October 2019.
Living up to his nickname ‘The Bull’, Hwang scored that impressive solo goal and then set up a goal for Minamino – now a Liverpool player – to leave Jurgen Klopp stunned with his energy and direct operation. According to Huang, he was approached by the Liverpool boss after the match and described him as a “machine”.
The wolves started to realize what all the fuss was about.
Shrugging off a forgotten last season in Germany with RB Leipzig, 25-year-old Hwang ensures that millions of South Koreans trained in England’s famous First Division don’t just focus on the country’s most famous player – Son Heung-min – this season.
The winner scored from the bench on his Wolverhampton debut, scored two more goals in the team’s win over Newcastle ahead of the international break, and forged an impressive partnership with Raul Jimenez to cure Wolves’ acuteness from the first weeks of the season.
“They’re fantastic – Raul’s consistent performance and Chan’s stay away from him, she’s doing really well at the moment,” Wolverhampton defender Max Kellmann told local media this week. “It was nice to watch.”
Wolves have the option to make Hwang’s move permanent for £13m ($17.8m). With the way his loan spell began, the central England side are unlikely to miss it.
How does it all look different for Hwang, who is a regular on winger for South Korea and played against Syria and Iran in World Cup qualifiers last week, compared to last season when he ruined his first year in Leipzig due to being infected with the Corona virus.
According to then Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann, Huang said he felt “almost dead” for a week after testing positive upon returning to Germany from international service in November.
He has scored once in seven matches with the team up to that point and after an absence of almost two months, he has participated in only three matches in the last five months of the Bundesliga without scoring any goals.
That contrasts sharply with the 16 goals and 22 assists Hwang scored in the 2019-20 season for Salzburg, the Austrian club he left South Korea to join at the age of 19.
Now, he is the 14th South Korean to play in the Premier League – a league he was drawn to as a child when he watched compatriot Park Ji-sung play for Manchester United – and the seventh to score in it.
Hwang moved to Wolverhampton in the closing days of the summer transfer window and was a three-match bench before making his way into the team at the expense of Adama Traore, the fast but volatile Spanish winger.
Huang showed more composure in front of goal than Traore, as he showed through his two good ends against Newcastle from Jimenez’s passes.
His ability to press from the front – an approach dug into him since his time at Salzburg and Leipzig – matches the style of play favored by Wolverhampton coach Bruno Lage, who took charge during the sabbatical as a substitute for Nuno Espirito Santo.
Playing to Jimenez’s left, Hwang holds a position that Son – a player he has described as his role model – with Spurs alongside Harry Kane. Son has mastered the art of running past Kane, who tends to go deep into hook-up play, and the Huang-Jiménez combination has worked that way in recent games.
Next up for the pair is a trip to Aston Villa on Saturday.
Hwang might be a perfect fit for wolves in another way, too.
Steve Paul, the former England striker, is one of the club’s greatest players and the scorer with 306 goals.
Now there’s another “Bull” that’s proving to be a fan favorite at Molineux.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80