Seongnam’s Kim Young-kwang joins exclusive 500-game club

Seongnam FC goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang poses for a photo ahead of his 500th career K League game at Tancheon Sports Complex in Seongnam, Gyeonggi on June 4. [KIM SUNG-RYONG]

Seongnam FC lost 1-2 to Daegu FC at Tancheon Sports Complex in Seongnam on Sunday, but the home side still left the pitch with something to celebrate when the referee blew the whistle.

Appearing in net against Daegu, Seongnam goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang has earned his place in the history books. Kim is one of the few players to have appeared in 500K League matches.

“It would have been nice if we won,” said Kim, who appeared in the game wearing a shirt with “500” printed on the back. “But I’m still happy because it’s not an easy record to set.”

Throughout the 38-year history of the K League, only five players – after Kim Byung-ji, Lee Dong-gook, Choi Eun-sung, Kim Ki-dong and now Kim Young-kwang – have played 500 games or more.

While the focus was on Kim’s success, the loss was important for Seongnam as it was the first time the team failed to score points this season. In five matches up to Tuesday, Seongnam has a record of two wins, two draws and one loss, totaling eight points. It’s good enough for fourth place.

“Same [Kim] Byung-ji, whom I have great respect, scored four goals in his 500th game, ”said Kim. “I’m not depressed about losing because I gave up [two] goals. I have received congratulatory messages from top Korean goalkeepers like [Kwoun] Sun-tae [of Japanese club Kashima Antlers] and [Jung] Song-ryong [of Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale]. Even people I don’t normally speak to have texted me.

After joining the Jeonnam Dragons in 2002, Kim went through several KBO clubs, never giving up his place in the starting lineup. In 2012, when Kim played for Ulsan Hyundai FC, he helped the club win the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League title. Then, at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Kim helped Korea advance to the quarter-finals and experience the FIFA World Cup twice in 2006 and 2010.

Center goalkeeper Kim Youg-kwang walks towards the pitch as Seongnam FC and Daegu FC congratulate on his achievement at Tancheon Sports Complex on June 7. [YONHAP]

Center goalkeeper Kim Youg-kwang walks towards the pitch as Seongnam FC and Daegu FC congratulate their achievement at Tancheon Sports Complex on June 7. [YONHAP]

Kim credits her 19-year career at the top to hard work.

“As a former member of the Korea Junior National Team, I was very confident when I decided to go pro,” said Kim. “But on the first day of team training, my confidence collapsed. After trying to block Roh Sang-rae’s shot, I came to myself. It was too fast that I couldn’t block it at all.

Standing at 1.83 meters (6 feet), Kim isn’t particularly tall for a goalie, so the only way for him to survive in the professional league was to improve his jumps. As he faced goalkeepers who were around six feet tall, Kim had to run more and jump higher. To do this, Kim trained four to five hours every night to improve her reactions.

At 36, Kim is a K League veteran, but he still hasn’t missed a single individual training session. With the help of Seongnam’s goalie coach, Kim was working to improve his visual concentration, which worsened from when he was 20 years old. Even though the soccer ball falls on her, Kim tries not to blink.

In addition to personal training, when it comes to self-conditioning, Kim has been at the top of her game.

“I weighed 86 kilograms (190 pounds) when I made my professional debut, and I still maintain it between 86 and 87 kilograms,” Kim said. “If I think I ate a lot, then the next day I eat a lot less. When I see younger players eating ramyeon at night, there are times when I want it too, but I turn my back on it and tell myself that every bag of ramyeon is a goal.

Although he joined the K League in 2002, Kim only joined Seongnam this year. After failing to re-sign with Seoul E-Land at the end of last season, Kim was set to retire.

However, it was his former teammate Kim Nam-il, who now runs Seongnam, who contacted him. As head coach, Kim Nam-il viewed Kim Young-kwang as the last piece of the puzzle to compete with his team.

With the two Kims together, now as a head coach and player, they hope to bring Seongnam back to the top. In 2019, Seongnam finished ninth out of 12 clubs in K League 1. Along with the K League, they had to deal with an early exit from the FA Cup. It was a disappointment as they have already won the FA Cup three times and have won the K League title seven times in club history.

So far, Kim has repaid Seongnam’s head coach’s confidence as he has played full-time in all five matches this season and has allowed only one loss.

To remember where and how he started, Kim chose jersey number 41, which was the number he used when he was a rookie, when he joined Seongnam this season.

“Every goalie dreams of becoming a ‘superman’ by blocking every shot,” said Kim. “At 37 [Korean age,] this dream applies to me too.

Seongnam will continue his 2020 season with a match against runner-up Ulsan at Ulsan Munsu football stadium on June 13. The match will start at 4.30 p.m.

BY PIH JU-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]

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