SEOUL, - Kim Young-gwon, defender for the South Korean football champions Ulsan Hyundai FC, was named the most valuable player (MVP) of the country's top division Monday.
Kim, 33, collected 55 out of 115 votes from media, six out of 12 votes from head coaches and four out of 12 votes from captains of clubs in the K League 1. This is his first MVP honor.
Those totals were converted to 44.13 voting points for Kim, who edged out Zeca of Pohang Steelers, who finished with 41.76 points.
Kim appeared in 32 of Ulsan's 38 matches this year, his second with Ulsan. The center back completed 2,268 passes, the most on his team and third most in the K League 1.
Kim, who had previously played club football in Japan and China, is the second straight Ulsan player to win the K League 1 MVP award, following midfielder Lee Chung-yong last season.
After accepting the trophy, Kim thanked Ulsan's fans for being the "engine" for the club and his family for their unwavering support.
"This is the beginning of one of the last pages of my football career, and I won't just stop here," Kim said, choking back tears after thanking his wife. "I hope I can stand on this stage once again next year."
Kim said his head coach, Hong Myung-bo, was the guiding light that he needed throughout the season.
"I went through some rough patches this season, and the coach told me: 'You can't be playing well every match. If you struggle for a couple of matches, that's still okay,'" Kim said. "That really put my mind at ease, and that's when I felt convinced we could win the title this year."
Ulsan locked down their second consecutive title on Oct. 29, with three matches left this season. They finished the campaign with 76 points from 23 wins, seven draws and eight losses, 12 points ahead of Pohang Steelers.
Hong captured his second straight Coach of the Year award. Hong collected 36 votes from media, nine from his fellow head coaches and four from captains, for a total of 45.02 points.
Lee Jung-hyo of Gwangju FC, who led the upstart club to a third-place finish in their first season following promotion from the K League 2, earned the most media votes with 59. However, Lee only got one vote each from his peers and captains, and finished with 25.52 points.
The top coaching award has often been given to the bench boss of the champions. In 2020, Pohang's Kim captured the award after leading his team to a third-place finish, becoming the first winner not to come from a champion or a runner-up.
Hong, who became the sixth back-to-back winner of the coaching prize, said he hopes to inspire a future generation of coaches with his accomplishments over the past two seasons.
"This can be a lonely job. When teams lose, coaches get the brunt of the criticism. We're supposed to be the only people in the stadium who don't know anything about football," Hong said. "But when the going gets tough, you have to open your ears and listen to different voices. This was not an easy season for us by any means, but our players did a great job overcoming some adversity along the way."
Jung Ho-yeon of Gwangju FC won the Young Player of the Year award, presented to the best player aged 23 or younger, with under three years of K League experience.
In his first K League 1 season, Jung, 23, recorded two goals and four assists. Gwangju had five wins and a draw in six matches in which Jung had a goal or an assist.
Jung garnered 43 votes from media, two votes from head coaches and six votes from captains, for 34.96 points. Hwang Jae-won of Daegu FC was the runner-up with 32.17 points.
"I want to thank my coach, Lee Jung-hyo, for helping me grow without being complacent," Jung said. "I also want to thank my teammates. I couldn't have won this without them."
The K League 1 also unveiled its Best XI for the season, with one goalkeeper, four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.
The players were: Jo Hyeon-woo of Ulsan at goalkeeper; Kim Young-gwon and Seol Young-woo of Ulsan, and Alexander Grant and Wanderson of Pohang at defense; Gerso Fernandes of Incheon United, Oberdan of Pohang, Lee Soon-min of Gwangju and Um Won-sang of Ulsan in midfield; and Joo Min-kyu of Ulsan and Zeca of Pohang at forward.
Source: Yonhap News Agency