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Captain of K League champions chasing monumental MVP award

All News 13:55 December 06, 2021

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- This is shaping up as one of the most memorable weeks in Hong Jeong-ho's football career.

The 32-year-old center back captained Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to a record-setting fifth consecutive K League 1 championship on Sunday. And then at the annual K League awards ceremony on Tuesday, set to take place some 48 hours after Jeonbuk's title celebration, Hong could be named the league's most valuable player (MVP).

Hong is one of four nominees for the top individual award in the K League. He's up against Jeju United striker Joo Min-kyu, Daegu FC forward Cesinha and Ulsan Hyundai FC forward Lee Dong-jun. The ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday in Seoul.

Members of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrate their 2021 K League 1 championship following a 2-0 victory over Jeju United at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on Dec. 5, 2021. (Yonhap)

Joo led the K League 1 with 22 goals. Lee Dong-jun, who won the K League 2 MVP two years ago, paced Ulsan's offense with 11 goals in his first season with the second-place club. Cesinha had nine goals and seven assists as the top playmaker for the third-place Daegu.

But Hong further cemented his MVP case by helping Jeonbuk to a 2-0 victory over Jeju United on Sunday. With Hong manning the backline as the shutdown defender, Jeonbuk conceded the fewest goals in the K League 1 this season with 37 in 38 matches.

Hong is trying to become the first defender to be named K League MVP since former South Korean international Kim Joo-sung in 1997.

Jeonbuk also produced last year's MVP in Son Jun-ho, a gritty midfielder recognized for his defensive acumen. With Son having taken his talent to China and no viable replacement in his position, the onus fell on Jeonbuk's defenders to hold the fort.

And Hong rose to the occasion with an impressive display of defending throughout the season. He played in 36 of 38 matches, and led all outfield players on Jeonbuk with 3,315 minutes played. No one outside the starting goalkeeper Song Bum-keun played over 3,000 minutes for Jeonbuk this year.

Hong scored just twice but both of those goals came in crucial junctures for Jeonbuk.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors captain Hong Jeong-ho (C) raises the K League 1 championship trophy following Jeonbuk's 2-0 win over Jeju United at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on Dec. 5, 2021, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

On Sept. 5, he netted an injury-time winner to lift Jeonbuk past FC Seoul 4-3, saving the club from settling for a frustrating draw against a lowly foe. Then on Nov. 28, he scored Jeonbuk's first goal in their 2-0 win over Daegu FC, a win that, combined with Ulsan's draw versus Suwon Samsung Bluewings the same day, put Jeonbuk up by two points heading into the season finale.

After Sunday's victory, Hong didn't shy away from stating his MVP case.

"I've played every match like it's my last, and thankfully, I've been able to stay healthy for the full season," Hong said. "It's a great opportunity for me, and I'd love to win (the MVP award). I am going to dress up for the ceremony."

Head coaches and captains for each club, plus members of the media, have cast their votes.

Hong Jeong-ho of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrates his goal against Daegu FC during the clubs' K League 1 match at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Nov. 28, 2021, in this file photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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