South Korean midfielder Hwang In-bum, who left Greece for Serbian side FK Zvezda, has shown his determination to play in the ‘War of the Stars’.

Serbian Superliga (1st Division) club Zvezda announced on the club’s official website on Thursday (June 14), “We are pleased to introduce Hwang In-bum, who signed a four-year contract with our club at the Stadion Raiko Mitic Media Center and received the number 66.”

Hwang’s transfer to Zvezda had already been finalized. Zvezda officially announced his signing on May 5, saying, “Midfielder Hwang In-beom has signed a four-year contract with the club.” The transfer fee was not disclosed, but it was reported that Zvezda will pay Olympiacos €5.5 million (approximately $7.8 billion) over three years.

This is the highest transfer fee in the club’s history. That’s how much Zvezda valued Hwang In-bum. Known beyond Serbia as one of Eastern Europe’s most glamorous clubs, having won the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) in 1991, Zvezda continues to represent Serbia in the UEFA club competitions, albeit not as often as it once did.

The club will return to the UEFA Champions League for the 2023/24 season, with a first-leg group stage match against defending champions Manchester City on June 20. Zvezda are drawn in Group G of this year’s Champions League alongside Manchester City (England), RB Leipzig (Germany), and BSC Young Boys (Switzerland).

With that in mind, the news of Hwang’s transfer is a big deal in Serbian soccer. According to Serbian media, Zvezda’s president, Zvezdan Deric, called Hwang “the best player the club has had in the last 30 years,” and expressed strong expectations for the player, who has yet to make his debut.

“Red Star’s new midfielder is not an ordinary soccer player,” Serbian media outlet Republika reported on May 5. Zvezda translates to “red star,” which is why the club has long been known as Red Star Belgrade in Western Europe.

“Hwang has a very interesting biography and will be of interest to fans,” Republika said. He is the most expensive freshman in the team’s history. He started his career in Daejeon, where he became the youngest goalscorer in Daejeon’s history, and then established himself in the MLS with Vancouver. He then returned to Seoul via Rubin Kazan and arrived at Zvezda from Olympiakos,” said Hwang In-beom about his soccer career.

Zvezda was home to many of the star players who led Yugoslav soccer’s heyday in the 1990s. Sinisa Mikhailovic, who made a name for himself with his long-range free kicks, Dragan Stojkovic, one of the best technicians in Eastern Europe and a longtime manager of a Japanese J-League club, and Dejan Savicevic, a star striker for AC Milan, all came through Zvezda.

Hwang In-bum will play where the stars have shone.

Zvezda was overjoyed to officially finalize the signing of Inbum Hwang. “We are pleased to introduce Olympiakos and South Korean national team player Inbum Hwang, who we have been watching for a long time and wanted to bring in last year,” said club director Mitar Merkela.

“We didn’t succeed then, but the most important thing is that we succeed now.” “He plays in the center, which is the profile we were looking for and will create the balance we need in the midfield.”

“I’m excited to come to Red Star and play in front of the fantastic fans,” said Hwang In-beom in an interview about his move to Serbia, “and I’m grateful to Zvezda for signing me and giving me the opportunity to play for such a big club.”

“I arrived in Belgrade (Serbia’s capital) last night and I’m really happy. I think my wife will like the city. I’m really excited to be here,” he said.

When asked about Zvezda’s team history, Hwang showed respect for the club’s history, saying, “I know Zvezda is not only the biggest club in Serbia, but also one of the biggest clubs in Europe.” “They won the Champions League in 1991, and not many clubs in Europe can boast of that,” he said.

“I know the Zvezda fans are just as passionate as Olympiacos, and that gives us a lot of motivation on the pitch,” he said. “I believe they will get better in the future, and I think I can help them in that regard.”

Hwang cited the Champions League as the biggest reason for his move to Zvezda. “The Champions League is a big reason why I’m here,” he said. We all want to play in the best competition in the world,” he said, adding, “I am ready to play for Zvezda with my teammates to introduce myself to the fans.”

On the teams he will face in the Champions League group stage, he added: “There is no easy group in the Champions League. We are a good team and we are happy to play against big European clubs like Man City,” he added, “I am looking forward to the game, we are not afraid of anyone. I think we can beat anyone in Group G,” he said confidently.

Hwang In-bum revealed that he had asked Premier League players Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur) and Hwang Hee-chan (Wolverhampton Wanderers) about Man City. “I asked them about Man City and they both said that I need to be ready to run non-stop for 90 minutes. This is something I can do,” he said.

“We have to run non-stop and I don’t think we’re going to defend for 90 minutes. We need to score goals to win, whether it’s Man City or Leipzig,” he said. “We need to win in the Champions League, we need to defend and play for the draw. I’m ready to help the team and I’m ready to play like a dog.”

When asked about the pressure, he replied: “It’s good to have pressure. I’m happy to be in a big club and it doesn’t affect me if I’m the most expensive contract,” he said, “I just want to join my teammates and show myself on the field. I can handle any pressure,” he said bluntly.

“The pressure is not because I am paid a lot of money, but because I fit in with this club,” he said, adding, “I will try my best to help the team, show my personality, and score a lot of goals with my help.”

Hwang In-beom has started a new football career in Serbia in a Zvezda jersey, but the move was not without its challenges. A contract dispute with his former club, Olympiacos, was a major setback.

Hwang In-beom joined Olympiakos from FC Seoul ahead of the 2022/23 season, and once again found himself in Europe. He played 40 games for Olympiakos during the 2022/23 season, scoring five goals and adding four assists. Although he failed to reach double-digit attacking points, his 89.1 percent pass completion rate made him one of the best midfielders in the Greek top flight beyond Olympiakos, and his best performance was confirmed after the season when he was voted MVP of the season by Olympiakos fans.

Since then, Hwang has attracted interest from Saudi Arabia, Serie A, and the Bundesliga. Inter Milan and Napoli have been linked to the player, while Bundesliga clubs Frankfurt and Freiburg have also been linked to him.

However, things did not go smoothly for Hwang. An abrupt change of coach and contractual disputes with the club made it difficult for him to complete a move.

Diego Martinez, who took over as Olympiacos’ head coach ahead of the season, didn’t see Hwang as a key player. Martínez’s plans were not in place, and after starting a preseason match against Nordsjelland (Denmark) on July 14, Hwang was steadily dropped from the team’s starting lineup.

Eventually, Hwang considered a transfer to secure more playing time, which led to a contract dispute with the club.

Regarding the contract situation between Hwang and Olympiakos, Greek media reported that the player claimed to have signed a one-year plus two-year contract, while the club insisted on a three-year deal. The player’s camp then demanded a buyout clause of 3 million euros (approximately 4.4 billion won), but the club reportedly would only move the player if they received a transfer fee of 10 million euros (approximately 14.3 billion won). This was followed by reports that the case could end up in court.

Some media reported that “the most realistic option is for him to quit soccer by the end of the year. That the situation is very complicated is evidenced by the fact that Hwang did not make it to Italy. Olympiakos demanded 10 million euros, and Atalanta refused to pay the transfer fee.” Atalanta, which had reached a personal agreement with Hwang In-bum, refused to pay the transfer fee, and the transfer had already collapsed once.

In addition to Atalanta, Monza (Italy), Freiburg, Mönchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray (Turkey), and others were interested, but negotiations with Olympiakos did not go smoothly and the interest of each team did not progress to negotiations between the clubs.

Zvezda’s signing of Hwang In-bum avoids a contract dispute with Olympiakos and gives him a new opportunity at a Champions League club. With Zvezda’s arrival, it will be interesting to see if Hwang can repay the faith of the club that recognized his value this season. 스포츠토토

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