Son Heung-min, Cha Bum-kun & Koo Ja-cheol: Bundesliga’s love affair with South Korea

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

The Bundesliga has a rich history with South Korean imports and one of them has even gone on to establish himself as one of world football’s most-exciting talents.

Following his two-goal heroics against Manchester City that helped Tottenham reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League and, in a season which has already seen him net 12 goals in the league, Korea Republic international Son Heung-min is one of the hottest properties in the world at present.

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While Son has grown in stature since joining Spurs, it is sometimes easy to forget that he was groomed in the Bundesliga and spent his first six years as a professional playing for Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen.

The 26-year-old is just one of the many from his homeland that have made a career playing in Germany, and there have been some legendary names along the way.

But, just who are the five South Koreans with the most appearances in the Bundesliga?

5) JI DONG-WON (AUGSBURG) – 112 games

Ji continues to feature regularly for Augsburg.

One of two South Koreans currently on Augsburg’s books, Ji Dong-won has had a successful time since first moving to Europe in 2011 when he joined Sunderland.

Two separate loan spells at Augsburg followed and, while he also signed for Borussia Dortmund in 2014, he failed to make a single Bundesliga appearance in an injury-blighted half-season spell.

Eventually, Augsburg swooped for his services again, this time on a permanent basis, and he has largely been enjoying life at the WWK Arena ever since, producing a match-winning display back on March 1 with a brace in a 2-1 win over – you guessed it – Dortmund.

4) CHA DU-RI (ARMINIA BIELEFELD, EINTRACHT FRANKFURT, MAINZ, FREIBURG, FORTUNA DUSSELDORF) – 125 games

Cha Du-ri bombing down the right was a frequent sight in the Bundesliga.

Considering the success his father had in Germany (but more on that later), it should come as no surprise that Cha Du-ri spent the bulk of his career in the Bundesliga.

Although he came through the ranks as an attacking player, Cha eventually established himself at right-back and played 125 Bundesliga matches for five different clubs.

Now 38, the Frankfurt native also enjoyed success in Scotland with Celtic and was part of the Korea Republic side that finished fourth at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

3) SON HEUNG-MIN (HAMBURG, BAYER LEVERKUSEN) – 135 games

A young Son at the start of his career with Hamburg.

Now one of the biggest stars in world football, Son Heung-min was also destined to lead the way for Asia from the time he became the youngest player to score a Bundesliga goal for Hamburg at the age of 18.

A move to Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2013 presented him with a chance to prove himself on a bigger stage, which he did with five goals in ten AFC Champions League games in the 2014/15 season.

Son then went on the become the most-expensive Asian footballer ever when Tottenham forked out £22million to sign him, and he has only blossomed even further since.

2) KOO JA-CHEOL (WOLFSBURG, MAINZ, AUGSBURG) – 208 games

Koo running the show in the middle of the park.

Blessed with excellent technical ability but also plenty of enterprise, the Bundesliga was always going to be a good fit for Koo Ja-cheol and it was Wolfsburg who first showed faith in him when they secured his services as a 20-year-old.

He arrived a few seasons too late to be part of the title-winning side of 2008/09, but has made an excellent career of his time in Germany having also played for Mainz and current side Augsburg.

The highlight of his career came in the 2015/16 campaign when he became Augsburg’s first-ever Bundesliga hat-trick scorer in a 3-3 draw with Leverkusen.

1) CHA BUM-KUN (DARMSTADT, EINTRACHT FRANKFURT, BAYER LEVERKUSEN) – 308 games

Cha Bum-kun lifts the UEFA Cup in 1998 with Leverkusen.

Widely regarded as Korea Republic’s greatest-ever footballer, Cha Bum-kun’s legacy continues to live on till today.

Initially signed by Darmstadt, the attacker renowed for his ferocious shooting prowess was soon poached by Eintracht Frankfurt, where he scored 58 goals in 156 games en route to triumphs in the UEFA Cup and DFB-Pokal.

Cha then moved to Leverkusen – whose ranks his son came through – and added another UEFA Cup crown to go with 63 goals in 215 appearances.

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