The main gripe I read about Davey Ki at the time was that he was too lightweight, despite showing flashes of some true class, the usual “Whit’s he gonnae be like oan a cauld Wednesday night in Kilmarnock?” banter had been flying around among the less erudite of our support.
Some felt that the honest, hardworking yet ultimately limited Barry Robson was a more preferable option in midfield than the elegant young midfielder. Those same supporters seemed to forget that this was a young man, 20 years old at the time, arriving in a new country, adapting to a new culture. Sure, he had previously lived in Australia when he had studied at John Paul College in Brisbane, the place from which his nickname “Davey” sprang. Nevertheless, as any five year old will tell you, Glasgow is not the sunny Land of Oz. In many ways Ki’s arrival and subsequent struggle to affirm his place in the first 11 was reminiscent of Stiliyan Petrov’s first season under John Barnes. Petrov’s first season saw him played out of position, learning a new language and adapting to the rigours of playing for a club as famous and demanding as Glasgow Celtic.
Like Petrov, Ki was a stranger in a strange land; but also like Petrov, Ki’s career and form were about to sky-rocket.
A solid showing at the World Cup for the Korean National side (including a very impressive game against highly seeded Argentina) led to Ki being included in the Team of the Tournament and receiving a 68/80 points rating from Sky Sports. Ki tallied two assists, one in each game against Greece and Nigeria.
A new club season blossomed; a new manager took charge and turned the team’s fortunes around in such dramatic fashion as to burn itself on our collective consciousness forever. Not only did he galvanise the support but the players too. Almost every player left over from quite a dramatic cull re-emerged fired up, motivated, hungry. None more so than Ki Sung Yueng.
Almost in retort to his critics Ki has added a very strong physical element to his play, which helped bolster his already prodigious vision, passing and long range shooting, aptly displayed when he rattled home the opener in the Scottish Cup final a few weeks ago. Crunching tackles on opposition players have dispelled the myth that he was far too lightweight to play in the SPL, as Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty amongst others will attest to given the…ahem…robust challenges Ki put in on both of them this season.
A small dip in form dogged Davey this season, after another solid showing at international level (where Ki found himself at the centre of a political and footballing “Racist” storm after he allegedly made a monkey face when celebrating a goal scored against Korea’s oldest enemy Japan), he returned to find the Celtic team a very different place from the one he left behind.
The industrious Beram Kayal had made a long awaited return from injury and had stamped his authority over every single pitch in Scotland. Kayal’s growing partnership with the subtle yet sublime Joe Ledley and the rise in form of previous fan whipping boy Scott Brown led to Ki being relegated to the substitute’s bench. However Ki took it in his stride, (surely a mark of his growing maturity) and fought his way back into contention for a midfield berth eventually going on to make 24 appearances for the first team and scoring 4 goals in the league to boot.
Having the luxury of playing alongside arguably the most talented midfielders the club has had in quite some time, Ki has flourished. Motivated in no small part by a strong and enthusiastic coaching staff, by the stiff competition for midfield spots and by the great form shown by his peers, Ki has improved immeasurably. Protected by the almost ever present Kayal, Ki has had the space and time to pick a pass. He has developed the knack of shifting the entire flow of a game from one side of the pitch to the other. Ki likes to drop deep, take the ball from the defence and bring it out, quite often threading a pass through the gaps in midfield or spraying a long precision pass out wide.
If Ki Sung Yueng can keep up his development I really feel we will have a world class midfielder on our books. The opportunity to play on the European scene next season will surely allow Ki to stretch his footballing ability even further; the European game should suit him much better. Just as Ki looks comfortable and relaxed at National level, the European stage should afford the kind of footballing environment that promotes gifted passers of the ball like Davey Ki.