Opinion

The A-League can’t afford not to sign Ki

Source: Newcastle United

A player with 110 international appearances for South Korea, with over a decade at the top levels of European football and fluent English and ties to Australia is available on a free transfer. What should A-League clubs do? Whatever they can.

Ki Sung-yueng is 31 and is perhaps the most comfortable Asian player with the ball at his feet.

The midfielder, who spent some of his teenage years in Brisbane and said once that he would like to return, has left Newcastle United and is looking for a new club.

That search is dominating sports news in South Korea. Many thought he would return to FC Seoul, the club he left way back in 2009 but that looks unlikely.

Seoul have a decade-old promise that says if he joins another K-League team then there will be a hefty penalty fee to come their way. Champions Jeonbuk Motors want Ki but don’t want to pay that clause.

Seoul are playing hardball and while there may be a way through this impasse, at the moment, the options for the former Celtic and Swansea City star lay elsewhere.

There is interest from Japan and China, and rumours of MLS and Middle Eastern clubs joining the chase.

Ki's Queensland ties made the A-League another obvious destination so it was no surprise that Brisbane Roar boss Robbie Fowler was asked about it.

“I’m a realist,” Fowler said. “We can’t afford him and I don’t think anybody in the A-League could. I know he went to school here but we have to be realistic.”

At one time, the prospect of Robbie Fowler playing in Queensland wouldn’t have been realistic.The same can be said of all manner of things.

Ki will not be cheap, though there will be no transfer fee (his estimated value is over AUD $7 million) and he knows that he will likely have to settle for pay less than around the A$3.5 million a year he was on at Newcastle.

He’s worth a solid salary as he should still be at the Premier League club, and had his time in the North-East of England panned out differently, he would be.

I remember chatting to him quickly after South Korea lost to Mexico at the 2018 World Cup.

The captain emerged from the dressing room on crutches and almost in tears as he knew his third World Cup and international career was over.

He was retiring from Taeguk Warrior duty, something which had taken such a toll over the years, to focus on Newcastle.

And he was doing well on Tyneside, showing the locals what a classy midfielder he was.

Then new South Korea coach Paulo Bento came calling, asking Ki to return to the national team for one last time: the 2019 Asian Cup.

Unable to turn his country down, he agreed, picked up an injury --that was badly handled by the Korean medical staff--and returned to England early.

By the time he recovered, he had lost his place in the Newcastle team and with Steve Bruce coming to replace Rafa Benitez, that was it.

Bruce has managed to get some decent results but Newcastle have the lowest possession stats in the entire league.

If you are happy to play without the ball then there is no need for a player such as Ki who gives defences a constant outlet, gives strikers plenty of chances and never gives the ball away. 

Most coaches would surely welcome the chance to build a team around this player.

To put it simply. Ki is one of the best players in Asia and will still be for some time.

He is also a marketing dream --handsome, funny and intelligent --and could become the face of Australian football in Asia.

The question is not whether an A-League club can afford to buy Ki but whether the A-League can afford to miss out on this aligning of the football planets?