13. Ki Sung-Yueng (Last Year: 3)
Swansea City (ENG) / South Korea / Central Midfield
Words by Tom Danicek
Ki Sung-yueng has endured a rough 2016, which could’ve easily resulted in an even more dramatic drop down our rankings. It can’t be all blamed on him, though, as he’s gone through an exhaustive month-long military training, where he “had to forget he was a footballer” by his own admission, and seen managers at both club and international level go through some rather deep crises. For that, we cut him some slack for once.
Nevertheless, it was worrying for South Korean fans to see Ki Sung-yueng not being able to impose himself in games where he was sorely missed – anonymous vs Qatar and China, when the Taeguk Warriors really should’ve controlled the flow of the games much more.
On the other hand, Ki proved to be his dependable self against Uzbekistan in November, with Stielike’s job on the line; often functioning as the last central midfielder and winning some key battles in the middle as well as spraying those laser passes forward. Also, his late surging run helped to end the unlikely Lebanon misery in March, as it allowed Lee Jung-hyub’s goal in the 93rd minute.
On the club scene, Ki Sung-yueng probably hit rock bottom at one point late in 2016, when he put in some really poor performances and then broke his toe, while there were rumours about a potential move to China circulating, since (encouragingly) denied by the player himself.
With Swansea managers post-Monk suddenly preferring counter-attacking wing play to possession-based football in 2016, as writer Bobby Gardiner explains to me, Ki and Swansea have simply drifted apart. There is hope for 2017, however: in the first game with Paul Clement involved, and in only a second away win of the season, Ki Sung-yueng looked flexible and motivated against Crystal Palace, covering pretty much all bases for Swans in central midfield next to the inexperienced Jay Fulton.
Highlight of the Year – That insane diagonal pass against Iran
Give me one Ki Sung-yueng diagonal for thousands of Gerrard’s Hollywood passes. This was orgasmic. Partially because it was unusual for Ki’s 2016 version, who has been a bit short of confidence perhaps, andpartially because it was just unusual full stop. Brilliant vision from a brilliant player who’s hopefully bound to have a bounce back year.