Last Saturday, two Koreans found the net in the same Ligue 1 game, a first in French football history. Get to know Kwon Chang-hoon…
After Suk Hyun-jun put Troyes in-front, Kwon inspired a Dijon fightback, setting up one and scoring another in the 3-1 win. Kwon and Suk are the 10th and 11th Koreans to play in France, following in the footsteps of national icons Park Chu-young and Ahn Jung-hwan.
Much is expected of Kwon in particular. Scorer of three goals in his seven appearances for South Korea, the 23-year-old is a real star in his homeland, and a year into his French adventure, he is now shining at Dijon.
"Going much better already"
Kwon told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS "Last year, I arrived in the middle of the season so I didn't get too much of a chance to show what I could do. I needed time to adapt to the style of play here in France, and in Dijon. This season, I went through the pre-season with all my team-mates, the coach and the staff, so I was up to speed with everything in terms of tactics and training sessions. I feel more confident now, more so than last year, things are going much better already."
The 9000km move from Suwon Samsung Bluewings to Dijon was a daunting one for a shy 22-year-old. But, determined to fulfil his dream of playing in Europe, Kwon and his parents packed up and headed for Burgundy.
"Dijon wanted me most, so I decided this was the place for me to come and live out my dream. Making the move itself was hard, but it wasn’t a difficult decision to come here. It didn’t take me long to make my mind up at all, when the opportunity came along, it was almost immediate."
Born in the third most populated city in the world, Seoul, Kwon has been pleasantly surprised by the welcome he has received, and the quality of life, in Dijon.
"As a town, Seoul is too big, and life there is lived at a very fast pace. Here in Dijon, both the people and the surrounding strike me as peaceful, so I'm enjoying that side of things here. There aren't too many things I miss from Korea. I am happy with how my life is going in Dijon.
"Language is the biggest barrier"
"The language is the biggest barrier. If you have a base of knowledge then you are able to communicate and it speeds up the adaptation process. In my case, I arrived without any knowledge of French, but now I am learning. I think as long as you arrive prepared, things can only go well. My best friend since I arrived here is Oussama Haddadi. When I arrived he showed me the ropes a little bit and he would come to speak to me even though he knew I didn't speak any French!”
Despite struggling with French, Kwon has impressed team-mates and coaches alike with his ability to understand what is required of him. Specific instructions are delivered via video or drawing, that Kwon takes in with the infectious smile that has become his trademark.
Dijon coach Olivier Dall’Oglio said: "He's a lovely lad, always smiling. It took no time at all for him to be accepted by the group. If there was just one word to describe him, it would be professional. He gives everything for football, it's a pleasure to be his coach.”
Haddadi added: "He's like a little brother to me. Away from football we eat together, we watch matches together. He is so professional and I've never seen a player as professional in his approach as Chang."
Having scored three and assisted two goals this term, the fleet-footed midfielder has become a fan-favourite at the Stade Gaston-Gerard. Kwon had to wait almost eight months for his first goal at Dijon's home ground but his face after scoring told the story of a man enjoying his football.
Kwon commented: "I was delighted to score that goal. It wasn't down to me though, my team-mate did all the work and I was just happy to be there to score so easily. It was a great feeling to score my first goal at home."
And since his move to Ligue 1, it appears Kwon’s fanbase has taken on new proportions: "I don’t get many letters from fans in Korea, but I get a fair bit of fan mail from China. I don’t know why!!! I know that Korean fans watch Dijon games when I am playing, even though they are broadcast very late back home. They always support me from afar.”
Now firmly established as a vital part of Dijon’s attacking plans, Kwon’s professionalism is shining through. No more so, than when asked about his ambitions for the coming years: “I cannot predict the future, I don’t what is in store for me. I focus on the present, trying my best to be a good player, a top player, the rewards will follow.”