Over the weekend, reports of a possible In Beom Hwang transfer came about online, as the South Korean now seems likely to head to Russia soon. In this, we explore his complicated time in Vancouver, the legacy this move can leave behind and where this puts the ‘Caps heading into the winter.
In the global transfer market, things move fast.
For fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, they got to see how true that statement can be first-hand, as the club had a full-blown transfer saga of sorts blow up within a matter of days this past weekend, leaving the future of midfielder In Beom Hwang in doubt heading into the rest of the season.
While it’s no surprise to see In Beom linked with a transfer away from the ‘Caps, as his move to MLS was always seen as a stepping stone move, no one can say they predicted that a transfer saga would crop up this fast, especially not between a couple of Russian clubs.
It always thought that In Beom would go to Germany, Belgium or even Denmark, as recently reported by the Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors, but in the last 72 hours, a couple of Russian clubs, including Rostov, Lokomotiv Moscow and Rubian Kazan have joined the race, as reported by Manuel Veth of Transfermarkt.
And within the same Transfermarkt report, which was released Saturday, but updated on Sunday, it appears that In Beom is on the fast track to a move to Ruban Kazan, a mainstay in the Russian Premier League, who kicked off their season this past weekend.
This move is a big one for a multitude of reasons, for all parties involved, from the clubs to the player itself.
For the Whitecaps, it’s a chance to make a profit on a player who has struggled to live up to expectations in MLS, at least compared to what one would expect on a Designated Player salary, which In Beom is currently making for the ‘Caps.
In the case of Rubin Kazan, it’s a chance to add a key midfield piece to help them push up the Russian Premier League table, as they look to push into the top 5 after finishing 10th in the league last season, giving them a chance at European football.
Lastly, for In Beom, it’s a chance for him to start fresh at another stepping stone club, albeit one a lot closer to the conscious of European scouts, after his Vancouver experience didn’t end up going as he’d expected.
There’s no doubt, In Beom is a talented player, but the marriage between him and Vancouver has so far been an imperfect one, so for the case of both parties, a restart may be the best option, hence the quick progress on these negotiations this past weekend.
It might not be the way we would’ve expected to see things end, but sometimes that’s how fast things can move in this sport, as we’ve seen first-hand in recent days.
In Beom’s story a complicated one
From the get-go, the match between Vancouver and In Beom has been an interesting one.
Off of the pitch, the young South Korean midfielder has appeared to have adapted well to the city, even naming his dog ‘Couver’ in homage to his adopted hometown, while doing a good job to quickly pick up English and blend into his surroundings.
On the pitch, however, things have been rockier, as In Beom’s struggled to live up to the lofty expectations that being a DP in MLS can have.
He’s put together an intriguing statistical profile, and has shown flashes of brilliance on the ball, but he’s failed to put the whole package together on a consistent basis, as indicated by his paltry total of 3 goals and 4 assists over the course of 40 games with the ‘Caps.
No doubt, he’s one of the most talented players on the roster, but for whatever reason, he’s been unable to impose himself in MLS, as he’s been unable to deliver the sorts of game-breaking performances that one would expect of a player of his calibre.
Brought in for a fee reported to be around $2.2 million, it was hoped that In Beom could be a big piece in the ‘Caps midfield for a couple of seasons, especially when it was also reported that Vancouver beat out some Bundesliga teams to his signature.
In Beom actually hadn’t wanted to go to Vancouver originally, as he had been looking to go to Hamburg in the 2.Bundesliga, but his club, Daejon, had pushed through a move to the Whitecaps instead, as they preferred the financial package offered by the MLS club.
To give credit to In Beom, he came to Vancouver with his head high, as he decided not to fight back against Daejon, his longtime club whom he views with high respect.
At the same time, you do wonder if that sort of saga wore on him, as his play with Vancouver never seemed to live up to what people were expecting from him, leaving many to wonder what had happened to his play.
You’d see him go back and play for South Korea internationally (as part of their head coach’s assurance that a move to MLS wouldn’t remove himself from their plans), and he’d be one of their best players, but as soon as he came back to Vancouver, that magic seemed to dissipate, much to the chagrin of fans.
It didn’t help that Vancouver’s midfield in 2019 was quite poor, leaving In Beom to do the work of multiple players, which in MLS, a league known for its physicality, really wore him down as last year went along, leaving him as a shadow of himself as the season went along.
But given how fatigued In Beom was, as he didn’t get an offseason for over 18 months due to the timing of his transfer to Vancouver, that certainly contributed to him wearing out as the season went along.
This year, however, that talk was supposed to go out the window, as In Beom and the ‘Caps got a long offseason, one that spanned nearly 5 months, before only playing 2 games ahead of another forced break, this time due to COVID-19.
Despite all of the time off, In Beom would struggle upon the ‘Caps return to play at MLS is Back, as he looked off the pace during the ‘Caps first 3 games of the tournament, before showing flashes against Sporting Kansas City in the Round of 16.
And at a certain point, you can start to wonder if flashes will be all that In Beom will be able to offer, for conditions out of his control, as it seems he’s never been able to give much more beyond the flashes when donning the ‘Caps strip.
Firstly, MLS is a very physical league, especially in the midfield, making it hard for players like In Beom to shine.
Yes, short players like Sebastian Giovinco can shine, but what separates the ‘Atomic Ant’ from someone like In Beom is that Giovinco is A) a really talented dribbler, B) has the guile of a player 7 inches taller than him, and C) has that ability to take games into his own hands.
Secondly, in the case of In Beom, whose more of a facilitator, it means he’s best at working with his teammates, he doesn’t have those attributes to truly break a game open on his own, as he was expected to do with a DP tag.
There’s a reason why he shines when playing for South Korea, and that’s because when the players around him are better, he fits in better, as he facilitates them to play at their best.
With Vancouver, whose roster is a lot more flawed due to roster constraints, he is restricted, as he must operate in a system where he is expected to be more of the leader, which isn’t a role that he appears suited to.
That’s not to say he can’t make anything happen with Vancouver, whose roster looks a lot better already in 2020 than it did in 2019, but at the same time, he would still need to find a way to step up his game to DP-levels in order for the ‘Caps to truly benefit from his presence.
It’s tantalizing to imagine what In Beom and his 85% passing percentage and 1.5 key passes a game could do with more talented players around him, but with the timing of this possible move, it appears that we may not see him do that for the ‘Caps again, for monetary reasons.
And that’s why the timing of this move makes sense, for a multitude of reasons, a big chunk of them being monetary ones.
While the ‘Caps plan, which as we saw earlier in 2020, always was to keep In Beom and sell him at the end of 2020 or 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a big wrench into things.
Now, with the 2020 season in shambles, robbing In Beom and the ‘Caps of valuable audition time in front of curious audiences, moving on him now makes sense.
Considering that a deal to Rubin Kazan is reportedly big enough to see the ‘Caps make a profit on the $2.2 million dollars they paid for the South Korean, they should take that deal to the bank, especially when you factor in how he’s lived up to that price tag.
With In Beom turning 24 in September of 2020, there’s also the fact that his young DP deal will turn into a regular one when that happens, bumping his salary charge from $200 000 to $612 500, which could be enough to impact the ‘Caps ability to do business on one or two players this offseason.
So if the ‘Caps aren’t satisfied with what In Beom can bring to the team at his current charge, to know that it’ll only go up from here, and knowing that there are offers on the table from European clubs, you can see where a deal makes sense.
There is the added wrinkle that is In Beom’s deal is close enough to the TAM threshold, allowing him to possibly be bought down when the cap goes up at the end of the year, as is customary in MLS, but due to the pandemic, no one knows if that’ll happen or not this season.
Factoring in all of that, you can see why a move makes sense. Given the uncertainty of the MLS market, along with the uncertainty of the European one, a move now could make the most sense.
A deal that is big to an MLS isn’t always the same for European clubs, and given how COVID-19 has messed up the European transfer schedule, leaving different league seasons at different points depending on their restart plans, teams may look to MLS for bargains that might not be available in Europe.
If the ‘Caps can recoup their money they spent on In Beom, and splash that cash on a new DP, who also might be available on a bargain price, this move could make lots of sense, especially depending on the kind of player who is brought in.
There’s a lot of ifs there, which can always go good or bad, but given the situation they find themselves in, it might be best for them to try.
DP spot opens up for Schuster:
Interestingly enough, if this move goes through, that’ll give Sporting Director, Axel Schuster, his first real chance to put his mark on this team with a DP signing.
In Beom was a Marc Dos Santos signing, as was Ali Adnan, while record-signing Lucas Cavallini was pursued by Dos Santos and completed when Schuster arrived this past December.
Dos Santos was smart to pursue someone like In Beom, whose profile was under-the-radar given how he was playing in the South Korean 2nd division while playing on the National Team, but the fit just hasn’t been there on the pitch, hampering the move.
The same story with Adnan, who has been a lot more impactful than In Beom, but can struggle to always influence the game as a left back, which for someone making DP money, you’d hope wouldn’t be the case.
It’s too early to judge Cavallini, but he seems like a good piece, provided they provide him with ample support, which you’d expect a potential In Beom replacement to do.
Adnan and In Beom are both good players, and could play a part in a good MLS team, but in this league, with the limitations MLS’s roster rules can offer up, paying big bucks on a left back and a midfielder who is more of a facilitator than a game-breaker to fill 2 of your 3 DP spots makes building the rest of your roster that much tougher.
Had Adnan and In Beom both been on TAM deals, they would’ve been perfect signings for Vancouver, but alas, due to MLS’s rules concerning transfer fees sticking to a players cap hit, they were pencilled in as DP’s, despite technically falling under the TAM threshold salary-wise.
Now, however, Schuster has a chance to make a big splash, much like the ‘Caps did with Cavallini, giving the team a chance to get a difference-maker, preferably one in midfield.
The ‘Caps don’t appear to be shy to spend anymore, as they’ve shown with investments on In Beom, Adnan and Cavallini, but this is a chance to send a big message with this new DP signing, who’d you likely expect to come in the winter.
If they can drop the big ones on a midfielder, one who can come in and drop 8+ goals and 8+ assists underneath someone like Cavallini and alongside Leonard Owusu and Janio Bikel, that would be huge for the ‘Caps, who could use someone like that in the midfield.
And given that Schuster has spent a lot of this pandemic downtime in building his scouting department and looking at players, you’d hope that he has a replacement lined up, be it as early as this season, or at the very least, ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Considering that it’ll be his chance to really put his stamp on this team, it’ll be interesting to see A) what kind of profile of player he targets, B) the position of said player, and C) the price of that player.
Depending on what we see in those 3 departments, it could prove to be a monumental move for the ‘Caps, sparked by this likely move to Russia from In Beom.
But after seeing the team get hit by the limitations that buying players in that $1.5-2.5 million range, which is often just enough to make a player a DP, you’d like to see them go for someone that without any doubt can be a DP for the ‘Caps, in that $4+ million range.
While this deal for In Beom is yet to be completed, if and when it goes through, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of legacy he leaves behind, as his tenure has certainly left mixed reviews.
On one hand, his play on the pitch left many to sour on him at times, but at the same time, his signing was a big coup for the ‘Caps, who certainly made a big dent in the Asian transfer market with the move.
And by making a profit on a young player who by all accounts underperformed during his time in Vancouver, it can be tantalizing for a U23 player to look at the ‘Caps as a stepping stone team and imagine where he can go if he plays well, as MLS continues to grow as a selling league.
With the new U23 player rule to come in effect in the coming years, it may give the ‘Caps a leg up on other teams when signing these young players, who will be counted on to provide a DP-level impact at a reduced salary.
It would help the ‘Caps more if they can be more successful on the pitch, but as we’ve seen with the signings of In Beom, Adnan, Janio Bikel, Leonard Owusu, Ranko Veselinovic and Cristian Dajome, they’ve built up a good cache with players 25 and under, so there’s clearly the start of something there.
If they can turn that into more transfers hits than misses, and become a circulating hub of players that is both successful on the pitch trophy-wise, and off of it financially, then that’s a win for the ‘Caps.
That would be a surprising legacy for someone like In Beom to leave behind as the catalyst of, especially given his up-and-down play, but alas, as we saw in this article, such has been the nature of his complicated relationship with Vancouver.
Which as seen by the recent reports, doesn’t seem to get any easier now, as he prepares for a likely move abroad, with Russia his likely destination.