|Ryu Seung-woo. (Yonhap News)|
Heading to a top-flight German club for a one-year stint, South Korean footballer Ryu Seung-woo said Monday he hopes to “leave no regrets.”
Ryu’s South Korean club, Jeju United, announced Friday that it will loan the 19-year-old to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for one year. He departed for Germany to undergo a physical and is soon expected to join fellow South Korean Son Heung-min on the team.
Ryu netted two goals to help South Korea make the quarterfinals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey in July this year. The versatile forward, who attended Chung-Ang University in Seoul, had previously been linked to Borussia Dortmund in Germany and Real Madrid in Spain immediately after the end of the youth World Cup.
He rejected offers from the European teams, saying he wanted to first accumulate playing experience in the domestic league before moving to major clubs.
Ryu signed with Jeju as a free agent in November. According to Jeju officials, Leverkusen approached the South Korean team with an interest in Ryu earlier this month. Jeju officials, including head coach Park Kyung-hoon, agreed to let their youngster walk before he even played a game for Jeju.
Ryu told reporters at Incheon International Airport that he was grateful for Jeju’s generosity.
“I spoke to coach Park, and he told me to keep my head high,”
Ryu said. “I will try my best not to embarrass myself and to leave no regrets. I also don’t want to disappoint coach Park.”
By signing with Jeju, Ryu gave himself sort of a safety net to fall back on, if his venture into Europe doesn’t pan out.
Under the domestic football rules, an amateur who signs his first professional contract with an overseas club is not allowed to join the domestic league for five years. Since Ryu first signed on with Jeju, he has a team to which to return after his loan deal expires.
Ryu denied he was trying to bend the rule or exploit a loophole, saying Jeju has granted him a valuable learning opportunity and that he hopes to take full advantage of it.
Ryu’s compatriot on Leverkusen, Son, is a 21-year-old dynamo who has seven goals in 12 Bundesliga matches in his first season with Leverkusen. He moved over from Hamburger SV during the summer and is currently tied with Sidney Sam for second on the team in goals, two behind Stefan Kiessling.
Ryu said Son’s presence will help ease his transition to the new environment but only to a certain degree.
“I am sure there are a lot of things that I have to deal with by myself,” Ryu said. “Rather than relying on (Son) for everything, I will try to do things on my own as much as possible.”
There are three other South Koreans currently in the
Bundesliga: midfielder Koo Ja-cheol for VfL Wolfsburg, and defensive backs Park Joo-ho for Mainz 05 and Hong Jeong-ho for FC Augsburg. Ryu thanked those veterans for blazing the trail for younger players.
“They’ve played so well in Germany, and I think that has opened the door for young prospects here,” Ryu said. “I hope to one day pave the way for junior players, too.”
When Ryu turned down earlier offers from other European clubs, he said he didn’t want to toil on the bench at an age when he should be playing on a regular basis. Leverkusen is no slouch either, and Ryu will likely have to prove himself quickly to earn substantial minutes.
“I have to stay prepared all the time so that I can pounce on the opportunity when I get it,” he said. “The top priority is to be ready to play as soon as I can.”
Bayer Leverkusen is currently ranked second in the Bundesliga, seven points behind Bayern Munich, with 12 wins, three losses and one draw. Leverkusen is also in the mix at the UEFA Champions League, having reached the knockout phase as one of the 16 clubs left standing. (Yonhap News)