Han Kwang-song, signed by Juventus after becoming the first North Korean to score a goal in Italy’s highest division.
When Han Kwang-song scored with his head against Torino, it was a historical goal. It was the first time ever that a player from North Korea had scored in Italy’s Serie A. A milestone for the Cagliari forward. The eighteen year old managed to fire one past the one and only Joe Hart, England’s number one, and made his way to get to wear the Juventus shirt.
Han’s signing by the ‘Vecchia Signora’, the most powerful Italian football club, is the icing on the cake of an unstoppable career that has left the Italian and European press speechless, but it didn’t surprise anyone at Marcet’s High Performance Academy, where he trained for a year.
“It all started when the North Koreans had a tour around Europe looking for the best academy for their young footballers”, reminisced José Ignacio Marcet. “In the end they chose our Academy, as they didn’t want a huge brand but to really learn how to dominate football”. In 2013, Fundación Marcet’s President travelled to Pyongyang with a group of coaches to choose 18 kids that had a high possibility of progressing. The group of players came to Barcelona in the Autumn of that year.
In the beginning it wasn’t easy for Han and his teammates. “They couldn’t take losing”, explains Marcet’s president. “They understood that the norm was to win. Because of this we had to teach them that losing and making errors was vital in the learning process and it’s one of the keys to success. Week after week they began change their mentality. They became more relaxed and quickly started to adapt to the dynamics of Spanish culture. The players that left, were completely different to ones they were when they arrived. I think we managed to leave a mark on a country that doesn’t easily take in foreign influence”.
Han’s adaptation to European football was shown in his performance with Cagliari. “I feel at home here”, said the striker after his goal against Torino. “I’m very happy and I would like to thank the manager, my teammates and the club”. The club that decided to take on the 18 year old for their first team. The heads at Cagliari had no doubts, they were aware of his main attributes, which are his dribbling, his goalscoring instinct and vision.
This was proven during the AFC U-16 Championships in 2014, that were held a few weeks after the North Korean tour squad left Barcelona after completing their training. The tournament was an excellent shop window for Marcet’s youth academy player. Han scored 4 goals and turned himself into a star by taking his country to success in a historic final against South Korea.
What happened after the Asian Championships is recent history. Han was eyed up by various European clubs like Ajax, Genk and Fiorentina. In the end, Cagliari went ahead and signed him in the spring of 2017. In a matter of weeks Han has gone on to show his worth in such a demanding league for forwards, which is highest division in Italian football. This led the scouts of Juventus to follow him closely.
After playing a couple of seasons as a player loaned to Perugia – Second Division team in which Han premiered in a big way, scoring a ‘hat trick’ against Virtus Entella – the North Korean striker finally signed with the prestigious club from Turin. According to the specialized press, “in this way Juve opens the doors to a 20-year-old footballer who, for the moment, will play in the subsidiary, but that treasures a great future and has already proven to be able to make history in football.”