Ki Sung-yueng has come home again. And he believes he can regain the form that made him one of the top midfielders to come out of South Korea.
Ki was reintroduced as the member of FC Seoul in the K League 1 on Wednesday. He signed with them Tuesday, 11 years after leaving the nation's capital to embark on an international club career that took him to Scotland, Wales, England and Spain.
He's signed through the 2023 season, though financial terms were not disclosed under a mutual agreement.
The veteran midfielder, known for his on-field vision and passing skills, will be called upon to be the savior for a downtrodden club stuck in 11th place among 12 teams in the top South Korean league.
But the initial excitement of Ki's arrival is mitigated by the fact that the 31-year-old has barely played any football since last fall.
His last appearance with Newcastle United in the Premier League came in September last year, and he only appeared in one match for RCD Mallorca in Spain this past spring before the coronavirus pandemic hit. He also suffered a minor ankle injury.
Ki said it was difficult to be spending so much idle time, but he tried to look on the brighter side.
"I've had such a hectic career that I barely had any time to reflect on myself," he said during a press conference at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul Wednesday. "Over in Spain, I took some time to recharge my battery."
He said he has no regrets over the decade-plus he spent in Europe.
"I've experienced things that few others get to experience, and I am gratified with that," Ki said. "After I retired from international play (in 2019), I may have been stuck in a rut. I think returning to the K League will motivate me again. I believe I can kick into another gear here."
FC Seoul's acquisition also closes the book on an ugly feud from February, when Ki, following the end of his stint with Newcastle United, sought to return to FC Seoul, only to be met with a lukewarm response from the club.
Under an agreement when Ki first left the K League 1 for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, FC Seoul reserved exclusive rights to negotiate with Ki if he wanted to play in South Korea again. And if Ki hoped to sign with another K League club, that team had to pay FC Seoul a hefty transfer fee, reportedly 2.6 billion won ($2.2 million). With FC Seoul reluctant to sign Ki and also unwilling to let him go to another team, Ki said in February he didn't feel wanted by his original club.
Ki said Tuesday he has buried the hatchet with the club.
"I think everyone knows feelings were hurt back then," Ki acknowledged. "I know fans must have been frustrated with the situation, and I made life difficult for a lot of people, though it wasn't intentional. I'll be competing with a strong sense of responsibility."
Ki said the COVID-19 pandemic compelled him to think more about his young family and how tough it would be to continue his career overseas away from them at this juncture.
"Playing in the K League again had always been in the back of my mind," he said. "FC Seoul officials made it possible for me to come in with a renewed sense of purpose."
Ki will don No. 8 in his second tour of duty. Ki wore No. 40, No. 17 and No. 21 earlier in his K League career.
Internationally, Ki racked up 110 caps and played at three FIFA World Cups and served as the national team captain at the 2018 World Cup. (Yonhap)