5 forgotten ballers we can’t believe are now playing in South Korea

It’s a pretty mental thought, but we guarantee you that you know more footballers currently playing in the South Korean top flight than you might think.

Jesse Lingard turned just about every head in the world of football when he agreed to a shock move to FC Seoul back in February, having spent the 2023-24 season until that point as a free agent following his release from Nottingham Forest.

But, like we said, he’s not the only one in the K League who you’re likely to recognise. We’ve highlighted them below – there are some serious throwbacks in here.

Jesse Lingard

Starting with the most obvious pick, Lingard’s career had stalled considerably by the time he’d been let go from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2023, having failed to shake off injuries and inconsistencies and looking a shadow of his former self.

Despite the dip in form, seeing the midfielder head to South Korea of all places wasn’t on any of our 2024 bingo cards. After all, this is a man who had scored in an FA Cup final to win it for Manchester United, and was crucial for England at the 2018 World Cup.

Since joining Seoul, Lingard has made three league appearances but is yet to contribute to a goal, with manager Kim Ki-dong saying in March: “I’ve been thinking a lot about removing Jesse Lingard. I don’t think a player who doesn’t run for a few minutes is a football player.”

“If he doesn’t fight, and doesn’t run better than the player who runs for 90 minutes? If you’re going to play soccer in the name, shouldn’t you just take the retired players?”

He has since undergone knee surgery and continues to recover, with plenty of time left on his two-year deal to make it work in Asia.

Ki Sung-yeung

Teammates with Lingard is Ki Sung-yeung, Swansea’s 2015 Player of the Year and an esteemed Premier League star with 110 caps for South Korea.

Ki made his way into European football with Celtic in 2010 after beginning his professional career with FC Seoul, but is remembered best for his six years with the Swans where he won the League Cup.

Spells at Newcastle and Mallorca followed before he rejoined Seoul in 2020, where he remains today as the team’s elder statesman.

READ NEXT: The Lingard paradox: 9 players we could’ve sworn were still in their early 20s

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Lee Chung-yong

Another baller whose professional career began in Seoul, Lee enjoyed a fantastic career within the European game after being named as one of The Times’ top 50 rising stars in football back in 2009.

Lee is likely best remembered for the time he spent at Bolton Wanderers, but joined Crystal Palace in 2015 and enjoyed a strong stint in London again as a Premier League regular.

His European career wound down in the 2. Bundesliga with VfL Bochum, before returning to his homeland in 2020 with Ulsan Hyundai. Lee was instrumental as they won the K League in 2022, picking up the MVP Award and being named in the league’s best XI for his exploits.

Park Chu-young

Premier League fans will remember the name Park Chu-young for his spell on the books at Arsenal from 2011 to 2014, signing off the back of a strong stint with Monaco, but never managing to establish himself among the first-team.

Now 38, Park has been back in South Korea since 2015, has 24 goals in 68 games for the national team and has won two league titles since leaving FC Seoul for Ulsan Hyundai in 2022. His career is winding down these days, but he’ll be more than happy with his body of work across the globe. 

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Ji Dong-won

‘He’s round the goalkeeper… HE’S DONE IT!’

Manchester City would eventually go on to win the Premier League for the first time in 2011-12, but they were stunned along the way by Sunderland’s Ji in what remains one of the league’s most underrated moments and one of Martin Tyler’s finest hours.

Most of the South Korean striker’s European career was actually played in Germany, despite the iconic Premier League moment, but he returned to South Korea with FC Seoul in 2021 and now finds himself playing for FC Suwon at just 32, transferring at the beginning of 2024.

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