Asian Games gold medalist is seventh in European MF passing metrics this season

KAA Gent’s Hong Hyun-seok is among the top 10 midfielders in terms of defensive line-breaking passes this season. 

The Confederation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s Center for International Sports Studies (CIES) on Saturday ranked the top 10 midfielders in Europe this season for the most opposition line-breaking passes per 90 minutes. Hong Hyun-seok was ranked seventh. 

The former Ulsan Hyundai Middle and Ulsan Hyundai High School player joined the prestigious K League 1 club Ulsan Hyundai before going on loan to Europe. In the 2018-2019 season, Hong played 10 games for German third division club SpVgg Unterhaching. 

He then returned to Ulsan, but this time on loan to FC Unions in the Austrian second division, a club affiliated with LASK Linz. Hong realized his full potential in the 2019-2020 season. He appeared in 30 games and provided five assists in the season.  

Linz took notice of his performance and pushed for an outright transfer, successfully acquiring him from Ulsan. He was later loaned back to satellite club Unions, where he developed into a quality midfielder with two goals and four assists in 24 games.

Since the 2021-2022 season, he has been a regular for Linz. He made his debut as a substitute against FC Machfeld in the Austrian Cup and went on to make 40 appearances in the season. He also produced a lot of offensive points. Hong Hyun-seok has established himself as the team’s new engine with one goal and eight assists. 

After recording one goal and 10 assists in 44 games for Linz, Hong joined Hent, one of the top clubs in the Belgian Pro League, last August. The transfer fee was €1.5 million (approximately $2.1 billion), and Hong was given the number 7 shirt, which was highly anticipated by the club and fans.

And Hong did not disappoint. He anchored Gent’s midfield in the 2022-2023 season, reaching career highs with nine goals and eight assists in 54 games. In March, he was called up by South Korea national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann and made his debut for the senior national team for the first time. 

His best performance came at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou. Hong scored his first goal against Thailand in the second round of the group stage, followed by a wedge against Kyrgyzstan in the round of 16. In the quarterfinals against China, he opened the scoring with a left-footed free kick in the 18th minute to help South Korea reach the final and win the gold medal. 

This season, Hong has continued to perform well with four goals and four assists in six games. Hong is naturally a midfielder who has the ability to break up play in the center of the field and play through passes with direct ball possession. He’s not the fastest player, but his key passes and crosses are good enough to create a lot of offense. 

Hong’s style of play can be seen in his record. CEIS ranks European midfielders in terms of the number of passes that break the opposition defense per 90 minutes, and Hong ranks seventh, behind Chelsea FC’s Enzo Fernandez. 

He averaged 1.62 defensive line-breaking passes per 90 minutes, more than Arsenal FC core and captain Martin Ødegaard (8th – 1.61). This is the most representative record from last season, as it shows how much Hong Hyun-seok is able to get key passes into the back of the opposition defense. 

Meanwhile, Son’s teammate James Maddison is second with 2.49, well ahead of Inter Milan’s Nicolo Barella (1.88) in third. In first place overall in Europe is PSV Eindhoven’s Joey Fehrmann.

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