Fan mail, fatherhood and fame: Swansea City's Ki Sung-yueng

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Swansea City: Ki Sung-yueng

Swansea City's fan mail is divided into two piles. One is for Ki Sung-yueng and the other, significantly smaller, is for the rest of the squad.

When the South Korean midfielder joined from Celtic for a then club-record £5.5m in 2012, he brought with him a devoted following.

As the captain and pin-up of his country, Ki was inundated with letters, gifts and even South Korean food and drink from his legion of admirers.

His fame soared in his homeland when he married South Korean actor Han Hye-jin in 2013, though it did have an impact on the nature of his fans' correspondence.

"Before I was married I got a lot of letters but, after marriage, it's nothing now," Ki says, laughing.

"I always appreciate all the fans from Korea. It's always great support from them.

"Since I've been playing for Swansea, a lot of their games are on television so I think a lot of Korean people are following Swansea."

Han Hye-jin
Ki Sung-yueng's wife, Han Hye-jin married the footballer in 2013

From Seoul to south Wales - via Australia

Ki is already a stalwart of the South Korean side with 80 caps at just 26-years-old, and he has also established himself in Swansea's first team - albeit in circumnavigated fashion.

He won the League Cup in his first season with the club but spent the following campaign on loan at Sunderland, before returning to the Liberty Stadium in 2014 and winning the Welsh club's player of the year award last term.

Ki's spell in the north east was but a little sojourn, however, compared to the start of his career.

Born in Guangju, South Korea, Ki moved to Australia in his early teens to play at a football academy in Brisbane.

"My coach, Jeff Hopkins, was from Swansea," he says.

"At the time I didn't know he was from Swansea and I didn't know about Swansea.

"[Now] I feel very comfortable with everyone in the squad, the staff and the people of Swansea. It feels like home now."

Ki Sung-yueng
Ki spent the the 2013-14 season on loan at Sunderland, helping them reach the League Cup final

Zidane inspiration

Ki signed his first professional contract with FC Seoul upon his return from Australia, and he was to stay with the South Korean club until he joined Celtic in 2009.

A tall and dynamic central midfielder effective at both ends of the field, Ki made a lasting impression with his athleticism and range of passing, which was partly influenced by his childhood idol.

"My first hero was [France midfielder] Zinedine Zidane," he says.

"I remember watching him at the 1998 World Cup, and he was my favourite player. I tried playing like him but I couldn't!"

The next World Cup - hosted by South Korea and Japan - was to have a profound effect on Ki, even though he had to watch from Australia.

South Korea beat Portugal, Italy and Spain on their way to the semi-finals, confounding expectations and inspiring their home fans in a tournament memorable for its glut of upsets.

"South Korea did incredibly well to get to the semi-finals. It was like a miracle," says Ki.

"It was a great inspiration for me. We still have a lot of work to do but they showed the possibilities in that tournament and that Asian football can grow."

Swansea celebrate their League Cup final win against Bradford
Ki (second right) played at centre-back in Swansea's 5-0 win over Bradford in the 2013 League Cup final

With a qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup on the horizon, Ki has an important few years ahead as his country's captain.

He is relaxed about the challenges on the pitch, however, having become a father when his daughter was born in September.

"My whole life has changed. Before I just thought about myself and my wife and now our baby is our priority," he says.

"At the moment they're in South Korea and they will come here in January and stay in Swansea.

"My wife loves Swansea, my family love Swansea because it's a great city with great people."

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