Juventus FC, the Italian football club, has signed Han Kwang Song, a North Korean football player, to play as a forward on its under-23 team. The club confirmed the assignment in a social media post that Han was on a one-year loan from Cagliari Calcio, the Italian football club that also plays in Serie A like Juventus.
What does this move to Juventus mean for Han?
Playing for Juventus would give Han a bigger platform and a larger paycheck, despite details of the payment not being made public. Transfermarkt, a German website that tracks football statistics, estimated that Han’s market value is approximately Euros 4 million, a figure that makes him possibly the most valuable North Korean football player till date.
Han’s move to Juventus was being speculated even last year and his agent had confirmed reports that discussions for a potential transfer were underway. Although neither Caligari nor Juventus confirmed details regarding Han’s fee, sports blogs and websites estimated that the figure would be around £ 3.5 million.
UFFICIALE ✍ | Han Kwang Song è un nuovo giocatore bianconero!
— JuventusFC Youth (@JuventusFCYouth) September 2, 2019
“There are always a lot of requests for information, but contact is one thing and a formal meeting is another. That only happened with Juventus,” Han’s agent Sandro Stemperini told Calcio Mercato, an Italian sports publication in 2018. According to Stemperini, Liverpool, Spurs, and an unnamed German club had also expressed interest in signing on the North Korean player. “There are several officials, from Germany. It’s normal that several clubs ask about him because he is a youngster who is playing very well, who here in Italy is being followed by Juventus, an important club. It’s normal for everyone to talk to me,” Stemperini had told Calcio Mercato.
Do other North Korean football players play for European & international clubs?
Apart from Han Kwang Song, a few other North Korean football players play for international clubs, including those in Europe and these players are also a part of the North Korean national football team. Ri Yong Jik, 28, plays as a midfielder for Tokyo Verdy, a Japanese football club based in Tokyo. Choe Song Hyok, 21, plays as a midfielder for Arezzo, an Italian club. Pak Kwang Ryong, 27, plays for St. Pölten, an Austrian association football club based in Sankt Pölten, Austria, and 31 year-old Kim Song Gi plays for Fujieda MYFC, a club in the Japan Professional Football League based in Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.
How are North Korean players scouted to play for international clubs?
ISM Academy, a football academy based in Italy is believed to have an association with North Korea’s National Football Association. This association reportedly allows them to scout for North Korean talent every year in Pyongyang and bring the players to international clubs, especially those in Europe. According to reports by North Korean state media, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un enjoys football and has attended several matches of the DPRK Premier League in Pyongyang. According to state media reports, North Korean players are encouraged to represent the nation overseas.
Do sanctions on North Korea impact its football players?
From December, sanctions imposed by the UN would prevent UN member states from employing North Korean nationals and would prevent North Koreans from carrying foriegn currency to Pyongyang. The sanctions imposed on Pyongyang are yet another measure employed by the UN to drain North Korea’s financial resources in an attempt to curb the nation’s nuclear capabilities.
NK News, a news publication that focuses on North Korea, reported that it was unclear what percentage of Han’s paycheck would have to be turned over to the North Korean government and how Han would be paid since the sanctions restricted large cash transfers to North Korean nationals.
NK News reported that Juventus FC had stated that UN sanctions would not be applicable to Han. In a note verbale in April 2019 regarding Resolution 2397 (2017) that addressed concerns that revenue generated by DPRK citizens who were working overseas was contributing to the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, Italy told the UN Security Council that it had implemented “strict restrictions” on the issuing and extension of visas for North Koreans citizens.
Exceptions, however, had been made for specific cases that involved international sporting events or events related to humanitarian benefit. Football players like Han fall within this category of cases where the exceptions are applicable.