Who should be the first K League Hall of Fame inductees?
K League is set to launch a Hall of Fame this season to honour some of the league's greatest players and managers and celebrate the league's 40th anniversary. The first batch of inductees will be announced by K League in due course, but the writers of K League United have put forward some suggestions.
It's about time, you might say, that K League set up a hall of fame. The league is, of course, older than the English Premier League having been founded in 1983, and has seen some true greats.
The criteria are that the players must have either played 300 or more games, scored 100 goals, kept 100 clean sheets, have been the top scorers or assister makers in a single season, players named in the season's Best XI, or have been the winners of the MVP award. So, who should be included in the first batch of inductees?
Without doubt, Dejan Damjanovic should be one of the first inductees. Dejan being inducted is just a matter of time but the reason why he should be among the first batch of inductees is that there has never been, nor will there ever be, another Dejan in K League. No player will come to South Korea and spend over a decade here and reach the heights that Dejan has.
He is the K League's all-time top-scoring foreign player with 198 and is second among all players. Overall, he has played over 350 games and that tally doesn't include the now-defunct K League Cup, scored 198 goals, won three K League titles, is a former K League MVP, three-time top scorer, and has been named in the Best XI four times.
My entry into the K League Hall of Fame would have to be Kim Young-gwang. At 39 years of age, the veteran goalkeeper has played over 570 professional games, with them all coming for Korean teams.
Also going by the nickname ‘Glory’, Kim Young-kwang started out his professional career at Jeonnam Dragons. He also played for Gyeongnam FC, Seoul E-Land, and Seongnam FC. However, it was his time at Ulsan Hyundai Motors which was his most successful. Glory was part of the 2012 ACL-winning side and also boasts two Korean League Cup medals, also with Ulsan.
Glory has been captain of multiple sides, as he has leadership qualities to guide teams on the field. He is also known for his quick reflexes and penalty-saving abilities. Kim Young-kwang is still playing professionally today at Seongnam in the K League 2. He is a player who played his entire career in Korea and definitely deserves a spot in the K League Hall of Fame for his match-winning saves and leadership.
Any conversation regarding legends of K League, or even Korean football, should certainly not overlook one man, Lee Dong-gook. Nicknamed 'The Lion King,' Lee roared onto the scene in his youth for Pohang Steelers, clinching not only the Young Player of the Year but saw himself thrusted into the Korean National Team for the France World Cup in 1998.
However, it was Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors where Lee eventually became synonymous. After stints in Germany and England where the striker struggled with injury, a return to the division with Seongnam lasted a season until former Jeonbuk manager picked him up for the North Jeolla club. From there, the Lion King reclaimed his throne as scoring records tumbled and titles were claimed. Retiring at the age of 41 in 2020, Lee finished his career with eight K League titles, an AFC Champions League medal, and a FA Cup title he picked up in his final career appearance. Not only that, Lee claimed the K League MVP award on four occasions and remains the division's all-time scorer with 214 goals and also the second-highest goalscorer in the AFC Champions League.
The K League version of a "one-club man", Choi Chul-soon has only ever left Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to complete his military service. The defender broke into the Jeonbuk side back in 2006, being part of the side that shockingly won the AFC Champions League, before going on to play a considerable part of every Jeonbuk triumph since, including nine league titles, another Champions League and two FA Cups. Not only that, but his time spent at Sangju Sangmu for his national service also saw the full-back pick up a K League 2 winners medal as well. It makes Choi one of the most decorated players in the division and, at 36, still has time left to further add to his collection.
While Choi may not have made the impact he would have liked on the international scene, his contribution to the Green Warriors is held in high regard by their passionate fanbase and his performances remain not only solid but at times vital, to ensuring the team's success.
Before being named the K League 1’s Manager of the Year in 2020, Kim Gi-dong was a force to be reckoned with in the midfield. The former Pohang captain has 501 all-time K League appearances, which was a record at the time in 2011, and good enough for fifth all-time. As a player, he has won the K League twice, the FA Cup and the AFC Champions League once each, and has been named in the Best XI once. A defensive midfielder in his playing days, it’s no surprise that the position has held an important role in his tactics, with Shin Jin-ho playing the best football of his career under him.
- Zeno Jo
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