‘Jeonbuk Cheetah’ Kim Tae-hwan greets Ulsan away fans

The Ulsan HD fans’ answer to the returning Cheetahs was a non-response.

Jeonbuk Hyundai and Ulsan drew 1-1 in the first leg of their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) quarterfinal first leg at Jeonju World Cup Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday. The crowd was 9,388.

Kim Tae-hwan got the start and stole the show. Kim joined Ulsan in 2015 after playing for FC Seoul and Seongnam FC, including eight seasons in the military. He was responsible for Ulsan’s right flank and had a huge impact on the team’s development. Nicknamed “Cheetah” for his blistering speed and overlapping runs, he was labeled as the heart of Ulsan’s attack, and his attacking point productivity was even more impressive. He won three seasonal best eleven awards, two K League 1 titles, and one ACL title with Ulsan.

Kim Tae-hwan is leaving Ulsan for rival Jeonbuk. With the arrival of Seol Young-woo, Kim Tae-hwan’s playing time has been reduced, and with the arrival of Shim Sang-min and Kim Joo-hwan this winter, his position has been narrowed. Kim, who is currently in Doha for the AFC Qatar 2023 Asian Cup, pushed for a move to Jeonbuk and completed all the formalities to join Jeonju. The transfer process was reportedly not smooth, and Ulsan fans were disappointed to see Hyundai move to their derby rivals.

Kim Tae-hwan started on the right side of the defense. Jeonbuk supporters continued to show their support for Kim Tae-hwan by waving flags with his face on them and holding up signs saying “For Kim Tae-hwan”. He played the entirety of full time and fought hard for Jeonbuk’s victory. Even after Ahn Hyun-beom came on, Kim Tae-hwan continued to play at right back. After taking the lead through Song Min-kyu’s goal, Jeonbuk allowed Lee Myung-jae to equalize and tie the game at 1-1.

After the game, Kim didn’t go with the Jeonbuk players to the Ulsan fans, but stayed near the center line and joined them as they moved toward the Jeonbuk supporters. After greeting the Jeonbuk supporters, Kim went to the Ulsan supporters separately. It’s not uncommon for players to go to the away end to greet their former team’s fans after a game, but Kim’s gesture stood out for a reason.

As he approached, there was no applause, no boos, or anything else. The Ulsan supporters just stared and packed up to go home. Kim Tae-hwan walked up to them and bowed deeply. Even then, the Ulsan supporters didn’t react. When Jeonbuk supporters chanted Kim’s name, they booed, but not at him.

In the mix zone, Kim declined the media’s request for an interview and headed for the team bus. Hyundai has two more derbies in March (quarterfinal second leg, K League 1 fourth round). The next game will be held at Ulsan’s home stadium. Whenever the Hyundai Gaga Derby is held, Kim Tae-hwan will always be in the spotlight.


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