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Kim Min-jae: South Korea's highly rated 'Monster' World Cup defender

Kim Min-jae: South Korea's highly rated 'Monster' World Cup defender

November 22, 2022 (AFP)

Son Heung-min's facial injury has dominated South Korea's build-up to the World Cup, but it's a "Monster" at the heart of their defence who could prove just as critical in Qatar.

Imposing central defender Kim Min-jae has earned rave reviews since moving from Fenerbahce in Turkey to Napoli in the summer for just over 18 million euros.

The 26-year-old has since played a crucial role in Napoli going unbeaten in Serie A and streaking away at the top before the league paused for the World Cup.

Standing 1.9 metres (over 6ft 2ins), Kim has long been linked with a move to the Premier League and Manchester United are just the latest English club said to be interested.

Underlining just how good he has been in Italy, Serie A named Kim player of the month in September.

In October he was the Italian Footballers' Association player of the month.

It remains to be seen if Spurs forward Son plays against Uruguay on Thursday as he recovers from surgery, but South Korea's Yonhap news agency said: "Against opponents like Uruguay and Portugal in Group H, it could be argued Kim may be an even more important player than Son."

Yonhap described Kim -- who will be tasked with keeping Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez quiet in South Korea's World Cup opener -- a "rock in defence".

Kim earned the "Monster" nickname for his strapping physique and also his ability to gobble up opponents with his aggression.

But he is more than just a no-nonsense defender. He has speed to go with his strength, good positional awareness and is comfortable on the ball.

Kim made his debut for South Korea in 2017 and has been capped 44 times, but this will be his first World Cup.

He moved to Napoli after fan favourite Kalidou Koulibaly sealed a transfer to Chelsea, but Kim made clear from day one that he did not wish to be thought of as his replacement.

"I'm just a defender who wants to give his all for his team," said Kim, whose tattoos include the Latin phrase "carpe diem", or seize the day.

"Koulibaly is a legend, I'm a young defender who has learnt a lot in a short space of time."

Controversy, apology, Mourinho

Kim only turned 26 earlier this month but he has already played in four different countries.

He won South Korea's K League two years in a row from 2016 with Jeonbuk Motors, his displays for club and country drawing a bid from then-Premier League Watford.

There was also an offer from Beijing Guoan in China and despite hopes back home that he would follow Son to England, Kim moved to the Chinese Super League in 2019.

There were more impressive performances, but there was controversy, too.

In May 2020 Kim apologised to Beijing Guoan after he told South Korean television that he was often "exhausted" having to make up for the defensive deficiencies of his team-mates.

Kim also said that he did not know the name of Beijing's coach at the time, the Frenchman Bruno Genesio.

The defender felt that he was the victim of selective editing, but the remarks went viral on social media in China and were taken as criticism of the quality of the football there.

Later the same year Kim was again linked with the Premier League, this time with Spurs, and Lazio in Italy.

Spurs were managed at the time by Jose Mourinho and South Korea coach Paulo Bento reportedly recommended Kim to his fellow Portuguese.

When Kim did finally leave China in August last year it was not to England, but Turkey and Fenerbahce, where he would play only one season but quickly became a bedrock of the side. 

Then came Napoli for what has proved to be a bargain buy.

It says everything about Kim that nobody really talks about Koulibaly at Napoli anymore.

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