Gwangju FC, a professional soccer team that started the 2022 season under new head coach Lee Jung-hyo, dominated the K League 2 (second division) that season, winning the title and earning automatic promotion to the K League 1 (first division) in 2023. However, not many people thought Gwangju would do well in the K League 1. Gwangju ranked sixth out of 11 teams in the 2022 season in the K League 2 in terms of player salary spending. In K League 1, they were dead last.
However, in the 2023 season, Gwangju is one of the most promising teams in the K League 1. Despite being promoted, the team has “won against all 11 clubs” and is currently in third place in the league (57 points) with three games to go. The team also holds the record for the most wins in K League 1 (16) in its history.
Among the players leading the ‘Gwangju of the Winds’ is midfielder Jung Ho-yeon (23), who is showing a quietly strong performance. He is a model student and a gentle person who is praised by Gwangju head coach Lee Jung-hyo as a “player who constantly studies,” but on the pitch, he is Gwangju’s “new engine,” firing on all cylinders.
Sports Korea caught up with Jung at the Gwangju Football Stadium to find out more about his thoughts on soccer, his pride in being a Gwangju player, and his daily life.
Reporter: First of all, congratulations on your gold medal at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. What kind of memories do you have?
Jung Ho-yeon: I was very happy to achieve the goal that everyone in the team wanted. There were a lot of players on the Asian Games team that I got to know for the first time. Outside of training and matches, we spent a lot of time in our room, and I got to know my teammates by playing a mafia game that my brothers suggested. I became especially close with Kim Tae-hyun (Vegalta Sendai) and Park Jae-yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai), who were born in 2000.
Reporter: Your team Gwangju’s surge this season is scary. How do you feel as a player?
Jung Ho-yeon: It’s strange. Even on the Asian Games team, my brothers from other teams would ask me, “Why is Gwangju doing so well?” I would say, “Because the coach taught me well. Then I say, ‘It’s because the coach taught me well’ (laughs).
Reporter: Not only the team, but also the player himself has been raising his stock as a mainstay member of Gwangju. Did you expect it to be this good?
Jung Ho-yeon: I honestly didn’t expect it to be this good. Even last season, I thought, ‘I hope I can play about 15 games and experience the league,’ but the coach gave me more opportunities than I expected (36 games in the 2022 K League 2 season), so I was able to grow even more. His coaching was new in every aspect, including the concept of space. The most important thing is to recognize when to go for the ball and when not to. Even when you’re under pressure from the opponent, you have to look at your teammate’s situation with the ball. For example, if the player is in a position to dribble, you shouldn’t get close to him, but rather give him space to dribble. I’m still learning about why I need to clear this space and why I need to use it. 무지개토토 도메인
Reporter: Are there any players you benchmark yourself after?
Jung Ho-yeon: I like FC Barcelona midfielder Frankie the Dragon. I like midfielders who are good at kicking the ball and breaking up pressure, and I like the way he creates space from the back.