There has never been such a large defender in Korean football. 26-year-old Kim Min-jae was not able to demonstrate the defensive power of the ‘monster’ everyone knows due to accumulated fatigue at his team, Napoli, and a calf muscle injury sustained in the first match of the Qatar World Cup group stage against Uruguay. is not fading The evaluation of the great performance shown in Napoli before the World Cup has not changed. From the middle of the World Cup, news continued that Kim Min-jae was being targeted by world-class super clubs with more financial power than Napoli.
It was Manchester United (hereafter Man United) that cut the first tape. Liverpool, one of Manchester United’s biggest rivals, is also showing interest in signing Kim Min-jae. It’s not just the English Premier League. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), which has three of the best strikers in the world, including Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbafe, and Neymar, and Spain’s Real Madrid, which is a dream club for soccer players, are being discussed. In just six months, Kim Min-jae has gone from an unproven Asian centre-back to a special talent coveted by top clubs in Europe. Why is Kim Min-jae’s value skyrocketing?
Kim Min-jae, who entered the European stage by transferring from Beijing Guoan in China to Fenerbahce in Turkey two years ago, advanced to the big league Italy Serie A within a year. At that time, Kim Min-jae had three options. He had love calls from Napoli and other Italian clubs, and France’s Stade Rennes also actively wanted him. Tottenham, who received a strong recommendation from Son Heung-min, was slower than other teams due to tapping the calculator, but if Min-jae Kim waited, a positive answer would come.
In such a situation, Kim Min-jae resolutely chose to go to Italy. This turned out to be a great choice. Serie A is called the home of defense in Europe. There are a lot of good defenders, and there are many coaches who lead the trend of defensive tactics. A successful defender in Serie A has the conviction that he can work anywhere. As soon as he entered such a stage, Kim Min-jae raised Napoli to the top of the league. In the UEFA (European Football Confederation) Champions League, they showed their peak skills and led the team to the round of 16 by finishing first in the group. Looking at only the first half of the season, he played as the best center back not only in Italy but also in Europe, completely erasing doubts about his ability to adapt to the big leagues.
Napoli sent key defender Kalidou Koulibaly to Chelsea last summer for a transfer fee of 40 million euros. He invested less than half of that, 18 million euros, and brought Kim Min-jae from Fenerbahce. The effect was clear. Coach Luciano Spalletti uses Kim Min-jae to play soccer that is more aggressive and boldly advances the defense line. The Italian media praised him, saying, “He is a defender with a beastly instinct. When a danger signal is signaled behind the defense, he solves the situation with more fearful concentration.”
As of January 5, after the 15th round of the league, Napoli is leading Serie A. They are 8 points ahead of 2nd place AC Milan (33 points). Both offense and defense are close to perfect, with the team scoring 1st (37 goals) and team conceding 3rd (13 goals). There is no defeat with 13 wins and 2 draws until the 15th round. The role of attackers such as Victor Osimen and Hvica Kvarachhelia is also attracting attention, but Kim Min-jae took the spotlight that shines more than that. This is because it plays an irreplaceable role in the tactics of the most attacking manager in Serie A, Spalletti.
Kim Min-jae has a sturdy build of 190cm and 88kg, but he is not pushed behind in basic speed by a small and agile player. Besides he has excellent football intelligence. He first blocks the play the opponent wants to play, and gets his ball back. It is the type that most definitely blocks the counterattack pattern of the opponent who is aiming for a wide space behind. Going to Napoli, Kim Min-jae became more optimized for this style of football. After moving to Italy, Kim Min-jae’s number of header competitions has decreased significantly compared to his past. That’s because he doesn’t compete with the opponent’s striker in the center, but blocks the opponent’s quick wingers who fall to the side with a one-on-one defense.
It covers a much wider range than in the past, but preoccupies the position with more sophisticated judgment and selection and blocks the opponent’s attack development early. In addition, when the ball is recovered through defense, it serves as the starting point for the team’s attack with a build-up based on a pass with a high success rate. Key passes and dribble advances are increasing every season. Head coach Hong Myung-bo, the best defender in Korean football history, said at a meeting at the end of last year, “It’s great. It seems that he has surpassed the limits of Korean defenders so far. The modifier of the best ever belongs to Min-jae Kim now.” Despite his large size, he built up trust with quick feet, bold judgment, and clear ball handling. In addition, he has good defensive intelligence, and his mentality and confidence that he does not panic in any situation are top-notch. After the World Cup, Kim Min-jae said in the entertainment program 《You Quiz on the Block》, 안전놀이터 which he appeared with his best friend Hwang In-beom, “I have never doubted my defense method. I always blocked my opponent with confidence.”
Currently, the major league teams that want Kim Min-jae are all teams that play football with this leading attack and forward pressure. Everyone pointed to Kim Min-jae as a player who would protect the back for the soccer that overwhelms the opponent. Another reason Kim Min-jae is gaining popularity is cost-effectiveness. At the time of joining Napoli, Kim Min-jae signed a four-year contract. There is one special device there. There is a temporary buyout for 15 days from July 1st to 15th of this year. A buyout is a clause in which a player and his/her team can transfer when a team appears that pays the set amount.
Proven defense… The best centre-back for leading attacking football
The temporary buyout amount signed by Kim Min-jae and Napoli is known to be 50 million euros (approximately 68 billion won). As this information became known, Manchester United, Liverpool, PSG, etc. are trying to bring the best center back that appeared like a comet at a relatively low price (?). It is Naples that is in a hurry. I didn’t expect that Kim Min-jae would receive attention from big clubs with such an active performance. In order to protect Kim Min-jae, he has to pay a high transfer fee that the opponent cannot afford, but the temporary buyout clause is a stumbling block. So Napoli has been pushing for a renewal of the contract since December of last year to remove the 50 million euro buyout clause instead of raising the salary.
If the buyout is removed, Kim Min-jae’s ransom is what Napoli calls. The highest transfer fee ever for a centre-back is 87 million euros, set by Harry Maguire, who moved from Leicester City to Manchester United in 2019. Napoli is judging that Kim Min-jae is worth at least 75 million euros (about 102 billion won). The buyout amount to be put into the new contract is also 75 million euros. There are other reasons why Napoli should keep Kim Min-jae for a long time. Recently, Naples signed a sponsorship agreement with Upbit, the largest asset exchange owned by domestic fintech company Dunamu, until 2024. At the point of commercial fruition due to Kim Min-jae, Napoli wants to keep the player as much as possible.