Understated and softly-spoken he may be, but Ja-Cheol Koo has developed into a key player at Augsburg over the years. - © 2018 DFL
Understated and softly-spoken he may be, but Ja-Cheol Koo has developed into a key player at Augsburg over the years. - © 2018 DFL

Ja-Cheol Koo, Heung-Min Son and Bum-Kun Cha: The top 3 South Koreans in Bundesliga history


Augsburg midfielder Ja-Cheol Koo made his 200th Bundesliga appearance in Augsburg's Matchday 20 win over Mainz, having spent the past eight years with Wolfsburg, Mainz and Die Fuggerstädter.

To celebrate the 29-year-old's milestone achievement, bundesliga.com takes a look back at his road to 200 and trains the microscope on two other prominent South Koreans who have made their mark on the Bundesliga…

Koo customer

After impressing in his homeland with Jeju United, Koo arrived in Germany as a 21-year-old, joining Wolfsburg in January 2011. He made 22 league appearances over the following year before heading to Augsburg on an 18-month loan deal in January 2012 and making an instant impact in a more attacking midfield role. Having failed to score once for the Wolves, the Korean chipped in with five goals in the second half of 2011/12 – including one against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena – as Augsburg comfortably avoided relegation.

Watch: Ja-Cheol Koo's Bundesliga journey

Following an injury-hit 2012/13 with FCA, Koo returned to Wolfsburg over the summer for another six-month spell, although he never really settled in Lower Saxony. Limited to just 10 Bundesliga outings by an ankle injury, the South Korea midfielder was snapped up by Mainz in January 2014, and enjoyed a relatively successful stint with the 05ers before returning to Augsburg – this time permanently – in the summer of 2015.

"Augsburg has become my second home," Koo told Sport In Augsburg in 2016. "I'm very happy here with my family, there's a lot of greenery and clean air. I want to stay in Germany for a long time, especially in Augsburg. At the beginning of my time here I didn't feel great and I was a bit lonely, not knowing the language. But I told myself that I had to score at least once in Germany before going back home. I got the goal and things started to go well, so I've been here ever since!"

Indeed, the 29-year-old has become one of Die Fuggerstädter's most influential players. A versatile midfielder who can play as a No.6, 8 or 10, he notched a career-high eight goals and four assists in 2015/16 to finish as the club's top scorer in the Bundesliga. Despite a few injury niggles he has continued to pull the strings in midfield, helping to keep his side clear of the relegation scrap, and reaching the 200-appearance mark against Mainz.

Ja-Cheol Koo made 34 appearances in three stop-start seasons at Wolfsburg. - 2013 AFP

Koo is also an important player for the South Korea national team, having scored 19 goals in 71 appearances since making his international debut in early 2008. He helped the Taegeuk Warriors win bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, meaning that he was given an exemption for the two-year military service that is mandatory for all South Korean men.

He also featured at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and though the Koreans suffered a group-stage exit after defeats to Sweden and Mexico, they also claimed one of their biggest ever scalps by beating reigning champions Germany in their final outing in Kazan. Koo will now be heading to the United Arab Emirates for the 2019 Asian Cup (5 January – 1 February), where he will be hoping to help South Korea claim their first title since 1960 alongside Augsburg teammate Dong-Won Ji and another star made in the Bundesliga…

Ja-Cheol Koo is currently enjoying his second stint as an Augsburg player. - 2018 DFL

Son rising in Hamburg and Leverkusen

Tottenham Hotspur star Heung-min Son arrived in Germany at the tender age of 16, joining the Hamburg youth academy as part of a deal between HSV and the South Korean football association. The club soon realised they had a major talent on their hands, and within a few years Son was training alongside established first-team stars, picking up valuable advice from the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rafael van der Vaart.

"I didn't know anybody and no one came with me," Son later explained. "I felt so alone but so humble, because everyone was helping me. Sometimes, I missed Korea. But I wanted to play professional football in Europe and this was what I had to do. Van Nistelrooy helped me a lot. He saw my first training session and he talked to me, told me I was a good player. He gave me confidence and I want to thank him for that."

Despite his relative inexperience, the pacy left winger stood out for his remarkable movement, technique and dribbling, with former Hamburg coach Armin Veh quickly falling under the spell: "At 18 years of age, Son can already do so much that others aged 30 can't!"

Heung-Min Son (c.) played alongside Dutch great Ruud van Nistelrooy (r.) at Hamburg. - 2010 Getty Images

Having scored 24 minutes into his Bundesliga debut against Cologne in October 2010, Son continued to go from strength to strength and enjoyed a breakout 2012/13 campaign, notching 12 goals and two assists to help Hamburg finish in an impressive seventh place. Bayer Leverkusen came calling that summer, securing Son's services for a club record fee.

"Heung Min Son is quick, agile, technically strong and has a fantastic shot," enthused Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler. "He will help us achieve our goals in the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League."

Völler's prediction turned out to be fairly accurate. Son helped Bayer to a top-four finish in each of his two seasons at the club, hitting double-figures along the way, and also shone on the European stage. He netted five Champions League goals in the 2014/15 season and might have scored more had Leverkusen’s run not ended with an agonising penalty shootout defeat against Atletico Madrid in the last 16, before his summer 2015 move to England with Tottenham.

Comparisons with Bum-Kun Cha - the first South Korean to play in the Bundesliga - were inevitable.

Heung-Min Son celebrated all manner of goals in his time in the Bundesliga, from the simple to the spectacular. - 2015 Getty Images

Cha Boom!

A pioneer for South Korean players in Europe, Cha represented Darmstadt, Eintracht Frankfurt and Leverkusen between 1979 and 1989.

Cha’s spell at Darmstadt was interrupted by military service, but he more than made up for lost time at Frankfurt, where he won the 1980 UEFA Cup and scored in the 1981 DFB Cup final triumph over Kaiserslautern.

The man who would go on to be named the Asian player of the 20th century enjoyed further success after moving to Leverkusen in 1983. His new team lifted the UEFA Cup in 1988, with Cha finding the net in a second-leg comeback against Espanyol.

All told, Cha - nicknamed 'Cha-Boom' on account of his thunderous shooting ability - netted 98 goals in 308 Bundesliga matches, as well as 10 in 21 DFB Cup games and four in 19 outings in European competition.

Bum-Kun Cha broke new ground for a South Korean player by becoming the first to lace his boots in the Bundesliga. - imago sportfotodienst

His son, Du-Ri Cha, also played in Germany, scoring six Bundesliga and 11 Bundesliga 2 goals during stints with Frankfurt, Arminia Bielefeld, Mainz and Fortuna Düsseldorf.

"The style of play in the Bundesliga suits South Koreans," Cha Snr. said. "Until very recently, the English Premier League was the dream destination for most Korean players and Ji-Sung Park at Manchester United was the ultimate career role-model. But the Bundesliga's come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years and now it's one of the best leagues in the world."

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