Fabio Cannavaro is not prone to giving out undue recognition. But he passed on strong praise to a member of Korea Republic’s coaching staff when the Taeguk Warriors came to China PR last July to watch Tianjin Quanjian’s Kwon Kyungwon.
“He is a good player,” the then Tianjin coach told the South Korean visitor about Kwon. “He is capable of playing in European leagues. It would be the national team’s loss should he not be called up.”
It was little known how much of his advice was taken into account. But sure enough, Kwon earned his first national team cap a couple of months later, debuting in a friendly against Russia during which he was on target.
Just last week the Tianjin centre-back was named in Shin Taeyong’s 23-man provisional squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, an interesting inclusion for a relatively new face who has just four international appearances to his name.
*Progress under Cannavaro
*Kwon’s remarkable progress under Cannavaro during the past season cannot be understated. It is a fact which the player is ready to acknowledge.
“He (Cannavaro) passed on his valuable experiences and knowledge to me,” the 26-year-old told FIFA.com. “Before he was one of the world’s best players and now he is a very good coach. He taught me in detail how to play and how to train, and I am so lucky in that regard.”
Indeed, for any player, it is a dream to receive guidance from a legend like Cannavaro, one of the world’s best defenders of all time and the only defender to win the The Best FIFA Men’s Player after captaining Italy to the FIFA World Cup at Germany 2006. For Kwon, the defensive skills and experiences taught by Cannavaro has made a big impact on his development.
“As a defender, what used to confuse me was how much space you should keep between yourself and the attacking players,” he once revealed to local Chinese media. “Then Cannavaro gave me the answer – to keep an arm’s distance so that you are easy to make contact to the players you mark. But you need to re-adjust the technique a bit by allowing more space when dealing with a physically stronger and bigger player. That is so useful and practical for me.”
Italian influence in China
Joining Tianjin at the start of 2017, Kwon spent the first months with the Chinese Super League club warming the bench. Having trained hard and learnt fast under the Italian mentor, he gradually made his presence felt by securing a starting place starting from the middle of the past season. He has emerged an integral part as his side finished among the top three and earned a place in the AFC Champions League play-offs.
Now with his name in Korea Republic’s Russia 2018 squad, Kwon is likely to achieve a personal dream by representing his country in a FIFA World Cup. Having already made his name at club level, it is natural for him to translate his eye-catching form to the international stage. And this time he has set fresh goals of following the footsteps of Kim Namil, one of Korea Republic’s heroes at Korea/Japan 2002.
“He is my idol,” Kwon said of the member of Taeguk Warrior’s managerial staff, who earned the nickname ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ in his playing days due to his strong defensive performances. “He taught me a lot both on and off the pitch when we played together (with Jeonbuk Motors). I admire him both as a great player and as a person.”