Kim Min-jae was mocked for ‘3 packs of cigarettes’ but…Italy Rave Again “Running Like a Monster and Leaving Like Lightning”

Italian media outlet “Calcio Inphillet” published a special article on Kim Min-jae, who left a thick footprint in Serie A and Naples while looking back on this year on the 26th (Korea time). The media said, “Kim Min-jae left for Bayern Munich after giving Napoli the title. Let’s look back on his 2023.”

“When Kim Min-jae left for Munich, Napoli fans felt so sad that a lightning strike struck them,” the media said. “The Napoli players who send Kim Min-jae also had a lot of regrets. This is because Kim Min-jae has accomplished something unprecedented in Serie A history. At least nothing like this happened under the shadow of the Vesuvius volcano (a volcano near Naples).” “Kim Min-jae joined Napoli by accident. But that coincidence, like a strange trick at times, made Kim one of the best players in the club’s history.”

Kim Min-jae was the best player in Napoli last season. Napoli lifted the Scudetto for the first time in 33 years thanks to Kim Min-jae’s strong defense. Although it was his first season as a transfer player and first experience in a big league, he showed his best performance from the beginning to the end of the league without even having to adapt himself. He played in 35 league matches and ranked among the top in almost all defense indicators including 91 percent of pass accuracy, 122 times of clean-up, 55 times of tackle attempts, and 41 times of interception. He also actively participated in attacks in situations such as set piece situations, and posted two goals and two assists. Kim Min-jae, who has emerged as the best defender of Serie A, became the first Asian player to be named the “Defensive Player of the Year” and “Team of the Year.”

“Kim Min-jae’s 2023 year was definitely a monster,” the media said. “Before Kim Min-jae came, Napoli fans had to say goodbye to Kalidou Koulibaly, who had been in charge of the final defense for several seasons. Fans thought it would be impossible to find a player as good as Koulibaly. However, Christiano Giuntoli pushed for Kim Min-jae to be recruited. There were also criticisms against Kim’s decision to gamble on an unknown player. He also mocked Kim Min-jae, a tobacco brand, for 3 euros (about 4,200 won) for three packs of cigarettes. However, Kim Min-jae proved the reason for bringing him in. He showed his physical and technical skills to compete against any striker. This year was a victory for both Napoli and Kim Min-jae.” 스포츠토토

Kim repeatedly praised the match, recalling the match against AC Milan, one of Kim’s most valuable matches. At the time, Kim led the team to a 2-1 victory by blocking Diathlon’s header with his toes at the end of the match. The broadcasting camera also captured the AC Milan legend Maldini covering his head while watching Kim from the stand. “It was an away match against AC Milan, one of Kim’s best matches,” the media said. “At the time, Kim neutralized all of Rossoneri’s attacks.” He also showed outstanding performances on the UCL stage. Napoli was grouped with Liverpool and Ajax in the same group, but confidently advanced to the round of 16 as No. 1 in the group. It was possible thanks to Kim Min-jae’s iron-clad defense. Although he defeated Frankfurt in the round of 16 and lost to AC Milan in the round of 8, he made it to the quarterfinals for the first time in the club’s history.

Taking advantage of his stellar performance in Naples, Kim moved to Munich, a prestigious German club, this summer. Many other big clubs including Manchester United, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain sent love calls, but Kim chose Munich under Thomas Tuchel as the final destination. Having triggered the buyout clause, Munich paid 50 million euros (about 71 billion won), the highest transfer fee ever paid in Asia. “When Kim Min-jae signed Napoli (buyout), it seemed clear that he would leave in the summer. Munich was aiming for the buyout clause, but the deal ultimately came true. His speedy transfer made Kim Min-jae’s achievement even greater. Neapolitans still remember Kim Min-jae’s achievements as he passed by like lightning. “I keep in mind that I saw the best defender in the club’s history.”

Thanks to his stellar performance at Napoli, Kim has also achieved stellar performance by ranking 22nd in this year’s Ballon d’Or. French Football, which hosts the Ballon d’Or, held an award ceremony at the Chaddelle Theater in Paris, France in October. Kim was ranked 22nd, the highest among its defenders. Jochko Gvardiol, who was also nominated, was ranked 25th and Huven Diaz was 30th. This year’s best defender was Kim Min-jae. Ranked lower than Kim were Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana (23rd), Arsenal ace Bukayo Saka (24th), and French national striker Langdal Kolo Muani (28th). Regarding Kim’s nomination, France’s L’Equipe said, “He completely forgot Kalidou Coulibaly with his outstanding athletic ability and build-up performance in Naples.”

In addition, Kim has become the first Asian-born defender to be nominated as a Ballon d’Or candidate. Kim is the fourth Korean player to be nominated as a Ballon d’Or candidate. Starting with Seol in 2002, Park Ji-sung in 2005, and Son Heung-min in 2019 and 2022. Son Heung-min ranked 11th last year, the highest ever in Asia. For Asian players, Ballon d’Or had been an area that only strikers and midfielders were allowed. Until now, ballon d’Or had been an area where only strikers and midfielders were allowed. Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan) in 1998, 1999, Seol in 2002, Park Ji-sung in 2005, Eunice Mahmoud (Iraq) in 2007, and Son Heung-min in 2019 and 2022. However, Kim was nominated due to his immense presence as a defender.

As Kim Min-jae was nominated for the Ballon d’Or and continued his stellar performance in Munich, some in the Naples media pointed out that he handed over Kim Min-jae to Munich at such a cheap price. They claim that the 50 million euro buyout was expensive for a defender, but it was relatively cheap compared to Kim Min-jae’s phenomenal performance. “Napoli kept most of the best players in this summer’s transfer market,” Italian ‘Arier Napoli’ said. Key strikers Victor Osimhen and Hvicha Kvaratzhelia, and key midfield player Stanislav Robotka remained on the team. There was only one exception: Kim Min-jae. Kim Min-jae moved to Munich for a buyout of 50 million euros (about 71.5 billion won). “Napoli sold Kim Min-jae too cheap. Everyone would laugh at Napoli.”

Turkish media also praised Kim Min-jae (26), who has emerged as the world’s best defender. “Kim Min-jae, who used to play for Fenerbahce, beat the Manchester City center-back duo,” Turkey’s “Azans Spor” said in a happy news of Kim’s Ballon d’Or ranking. Turkey and Kim have a long relationship. This is the place where Kim first moved to Fenerbahce from Guoan, Beijing in 2021, and started his European career. When Kim was playing for Fenerbahce, Turkish media often praised him for being “like a wall.” After playing 40 official matches, including 31 in the league, Kim moved to Naples of Serie A in just one season, taking advantage of his performance in Fenerbahce.

Turkey’s ‘Azanspor’ paid attention to Kim Min-jae’s transfer fee, which has soared every year. The media outlet said, “Kim Min-jae came to Fenerbahce for only 3 million euros (about 4.2 billion won). He then moved to Napoli after one season as his transfer fee jumped to 18 million euros (about 25.7 billion won). And he transferred to ‘giant’ Munich for 50 million euros (about 71.4 billion won) last season.” The incident continued. Kim Min-jae swept the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) International Player of the Year award. AFC awarded Kim the 2022 International Player of the Year award at the 2022 AFC Awards, which was held at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha, Qatar on Oct. 31.

International award ceremonies began in 2013 for players who left their respective leagues and played in overseas leagues among AFC member countries. Son Heung-min won the award three times in 2017, 2019, and 2023. Kim became the second Korean player to win the award and the first defender to win the award, rewriting the history of Korean soccer. He is the second defender after Yuto Nagatomo of Japan, the first winner. “Kim Min-jae played a big role in Napoli’s advance to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in club history,” AFC said on its official website. “In the Serie A league, he recorded 16 clean sheets, two goals and two assists, contributing to Napoli’s 33-year-old Scudetto win.” The award was made thanks to his performance during his time in Naples.

After moving to Munich, Kim Min-jae continues to have a reputation as a monster defender in the Bundesliga. Among top center backs such as Mathias the Licht and Dayo Upamecano, Kim Min-jae is playing as the starting central defender every day. He started 15 matches of the Bundesliga. He played all games except for one DFB Pokal and one UCL. He is gaining the absolute trust of manager Thomas Tuchel to the extent that there are concerns about excessive damage. On the 22nd, he was also selected as the best 11 players in the first half of the Bundesliga by “Huskerd Dotcom,” a soccer statistics magazine. Kim Min-jae had the highest average rating among centerbacks with 7.14. A large number of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Munich players ranked second in the Bundesliga were lined up. Harry Kane, Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sane and Kim Min-jae were listed. For Leverkusen, five players were selected: Victor Boniface, Alex Grimaldo, Florian Birtz, Jonatan Tah and O’Dillon Kosonu. Seru Girasi (Stutgart), who has 17 goals, and goalkeeper Oliver Baumann (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim) took the remaining two spots.

In the match against Stuttgart, Kim scored his Bundesliga debut goal, showing off his tremendous performance. In the 18th minute of the second half, Alexander Pavlovic connected a cross from the right corner with a header to hit the net. It was the first goal in a year and three months since the match against Lazio in September last year, when he was a member of Napoli. After the score, “Veteran” Thomas Muller and his central defensive partner Dayot Upamecano hugged Kim and congratulated him. Thanks to Kim’s performance, Munich won 3-0. However, Kim’s assist was cancelled. Kim passed a cross from the left side of the penalty box with his header in the 10th minute of the second half by beating the opponent’s defender in a contest. Kane scored the goal by pushing it with his head. It was the moment when he scored his Bundesliga debut goal and assist on the same day. After the match, the Bundesliga website marked Kim’s offensive point this season with one goal and one assist. However, a day later, Kim had no assist record. It seems that Kim’s header was hit by the opponent’s defender’s head during the competition for aerial ball games.

Kim Min-jae could have scored more offensive points in the match against Stuttgart, but his score was canceled due to regrettable decision. Before his debut goal, Kim scored a free kick in the 24th minute of the first half when Alexander Pavlovic connected with a header to shake the net, but VAR declared offside belatedly. There was a series of positive reviews in Europe. Huscoord, a soccer statistics medium, gave Kim a score of 8.82, the highest in the game. Another statistical medium, the Sofascore, also gave Kim a score of 8.3. However, Footmob gave Kane a multi-goal score of 9.0, the second highest score of 8.6, and Kim Min-jae a score of 8.6. Germany’s Kicker gave Kim a score of 1. The better the performance of a kicker, the lower the score. Kim Min-jae was the only one in the two teams.

“Eurosport” also singled out Kim Min-jae as MVP and said, “Kim Min-jae and Munich’s defense had the worst night at the match against Frankfurt (1-5 losses). Fans must have thought that Kim Min-jae was not worthy of recognition as a legendary player, including club legends Franz Bakkenbauer, Lucio, Klaus Augusthaler and Haji Martinez. However, in this match, Kim dominated the game. Both offense and defense were very active.” He also performed well in defense. He recorded six cleanups, six interceptions, and one tackle against Stuttgart’s strikers. His pass success rate was 93 percent (39/42), which served as the starting point for Munich’s build-up.

Notably, he thoroughly blocked Seru Girashi, the “bomber” who scored 16 goals this season to rank second in scoring. Girashi only had one shot on the day, but failed to display good performance. Fuscored.COM and Foot Mob gave Girashi the lowest rating among strikers of the two teams. Girashi has displayed stellar performance in this season following last season and is receiving love calls from many big clubs, but has displayed lackluster performance in matches against strong teams including Munich and Leverkusen. Locals praised the Munich defense team for blocking Girashi. “Upamecano easily dealt with Gagiri,” soccer expert 90MIN said. “Stutgart failed to block Kim’s ability to bowl in the air in a set piece situation, and as a result, Kim shook the net twice.”

Kim Min-jae, who played very well in the match against Stuttgart, was honored to be selected as the best 11 in the round for the first time since his advance to the German Bundesliga. The Bundesliga secretariat selected the best 11 in the 15th round of the 2023-2024 Bundesliga on the 19th. Kim Min-jae was named as the center back in the 3-5-2 formation. With this, Kim Min-jae was selected as the center back for the first time since his advance to the Bundesliga. Harry Kane, his fellow Munich player, was the two-top striker, while Alfonso Davis was at the left center back. The Bundesliga secretariat described Kim Min-jae as the “Monster.” “Kim Min-jae showed an overwhelming performance in the match against Stuttgart, both back and forth on the ground. He showed the best performance since Munich.” “He scored with a header in the first half, but after being canceled due to offside, he scored in the second half. He also helped Kane score earlier.”

It wasn’t just favorable reviews. Due to the continuous tightening of the team, the team sometimes lost concentration and made mistakes. When Kim Min-jae’s pass miss led to a loss, local media pointed out that it was a decrease in concentration due to excessive effort. “Kim Min-jae and the monster between tackle and error are showing two faces,” global media Eurosport said last month, explaining that Kim’s pass miss in the matches against Heidenheim and Saarbrücken led to a loss. In the match against Heidenheim in the 11th round, Kim Min-jae grabbed the ball from the last room of the Munich camp in the 25th minute of the second half with a 2-1 lead, but Jan-Niklas Beste quickly intercepted the ball and faced a crisis. Kim rushed to tackle Beste, who was breaking through, but rather deflected off Kim Min-jae’s foot, and the ball was sucked into the goal. Both Kim Min-jae’s pass miss and tackle were regrettable moments.

Kim also committed a missed ball during the build-up during the matches between Saarbrücken and DFB Pokal Cup. In the extra time of the first half, Kim Min-jae passed to Frans Kretsch in the midfield. However, the ball was lost to Lucas Boeder, who was pressing forward. Boeder then made a forward pass to Patric Zontheimer, who was rushing into the goal. Zontheimer’s shot avoiding Kim’s tackle and shook the net. After the match, Tuchel publicly commented that “Kim Min-jae’s passing to Kretsch, who was under pressure from the opponent team, was not a good choice.” “With Munich ahead, the game was tied due to Kim Min-jae’s fatal mistake,” Eurosport said. “Kim Min-jae’s passing mistakes, which are evaluated as having good foot skills, are repeated. Still, Kim Min-jae is trusted by Thomas Tuchel.” “Kim Min-jae’s passing success rate now stands at 93 percent. It is as high as it was in Serie A. The problem is to pass miss at critical moments sometimes. And wrong passes have fatal consequences.”

Lautaire Mateus, a Munich legend and Sky Sports commentator, also criticized Kim Min-jae. “Kim Min-jae is a source of anxiety for Munich. He is not doing as well as expected,” Mateusz said when Munich tied 2-2 at an away match in Leipzig in the fourth round. “You have to get used to the Bundesliga. Considering the achievements you have made in Italy, you are still not good enough.” Kim Min-jae will now join the Korean national team to participate in the Qatar Asian Cup of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It is a pity for Munich, which has to play the league without Kim Min-jae, but Kim Min-jae’s presence is essential in order to overcome the Asian Cup, which Korean soccer has not achieved for more than half a century.

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