A year ago, Kang Seong-jin was an 18-year-old football player with little domestic or international profile. Fast-forward 12 months and the FC Seoul winger has made a name for himself in the K League, debuted — and scored — for the Korean national team and been named one of the most exciting young footballers in the world.
You may not have heard of Kang before, but it’s time to remember that name.
Kang, now 19, has seen his entire world change a number of times in the last year.
In July he was called up to the senior Korean team for the first time, making his debut against China in the EAFF E-1 Football Championship. A couple of days later he scored a brace in a game against Hong Kong.
Then came December and Kang’s unexpected inclusion in The Athletic’s “My Football Journey: The Road to 2026” series, chronicling the experience of the most exciting young footballers in the world over the four years leading up to the 2026 World Cup.
“It was amazing that such a huge foreign media outlet even knew who I was, let alone chose me,” Kang told the JoongAng Ilbo in an interview at GS Champions Park in Guri, Gyeonggi earlier this month. “They contacted me in November last year and told me they wanted to watch and record my growth in the lead up to the 2026 World Cup.
“It’s an honor to have my career recorded like a diary. It’s motivating, but it also creates a sense of responsibility.”
The EAFF E-1 wasn’t Kang’s first brush with international duty. He previously represented Korea at both the U-17 and U-20 level — even appearing for the U-20 team alongside the senior team in 2022 — and hopes to get the call up for the AFC AFC U-20 Asian Cup in March and then the U-20 World Cup in Indonesia in May this year.
“My primary goal this year is to help Korea qualify for the U-20 World Cup in March,” Kang told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I’ll make every effort in the near future but also on the road to 2026 to bring out the cooking celebration more often.”
The “cooking celebration” is a reference to Kang’s goal celebration after his second goal for Korea against Hong Kong, when he stood still in front of the crowd and mimed mixing a bowl of food.
“I like to watch the Bundesliga, and Serge Gnabry does a similar thing,” Kang told The Athletic. “Also, I wanted to try to express that I made a magical moment, a magical trick in the game.”
Kang credits a lot of his success to his today to his high school coach his, none other than former Korean national team winger, the “Chaminator” himself, Cha Du-ri.
Cha, an extremely versatile player able to turn his hand to a defensive, winger or striking position, was capped 76 times with the Korean national team and learned his skills at the feet of arguably the greatest Korean footballer of all time: His father, Cha Bum-kun. 메이저놀이터
“As a left-footed player, I mainly played on the left side,” Kang told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Coach Cha [Du-ri] was the one put me on the right wing and told me to attack freely and be creative. I can hit both inside and outside, as well as from the left and right.
“Cha taught a left-footed opposing-footed winger can bully his opponents by running circles around them like a Brazilian player.”
Fittingly, Kang named PSG’s Neymar as one of his role models his, alongside Liverpool striker Mo Salah.
“I watch videos of Salah’s routines the day before a game,” Kang told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Like Neymar, who chooses adventure over safety, I want to be a player who changes the flow of the game.”
And like Neymar, Kang isn’t lacking in confidence either.
“One time, when I was a freshman in high school, I ran into [former Korean head coach] Paulo Bento at the Paju National Football Center,” Park told the JoongAng Ilbo. “He held the door open for me and I looked right at him and said ‘I’m little Son’ in English. He gave me a thumbs up.
“I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but four years later they picked me for the national team.”