Moving Up: Analyzing the futures of Ali Adnan and Hwang In Beom on the Vancouver Whitecaps

With In Beom Hwang recently stating in an interview that he’d like to move to Europe as soon as the opportunity arises, while rumours have swirled around Ali Adnan concerning a move abroad for a while now, we look at how this affects the Whitecaps, who appear to be prepared for this to happen as soon as next year. 

Heading into an uncertain 2020 season, the Vancouver Whitecaps find themselves in an interesting situation with their DPs, Hwang In Beom and Ali Adnan. 

With rumours constantly swirling around Adnan, the Iraqi international who the Whitecaps splashed an MLS-record fee on a full-back for, and In Beom, who recently gave an interview saying he’d want to go to Europe ‘as soon as possible’, it could leave the Whitecaps in a pickle in as early as a couple of months. After putting so much effort into attracting and acquiring In Beom and Adnan, along with their most recent DP signing, Lucas Cavallini, losing 2 of them in the summer would be a pretty significant blow in their quest to be a competitive MLS side. 

But at the same time, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially considering that the Whitecaps appear to have prepared for this possibility, structuring the deals to ensure that no funny business occurs. As they look to become a selling club in MLS, these 2 DPs moving on in the future is bound to happen, and it’s a step Vancouver appears ready to take. 

So while losing them earlier than their contracts suggest would certainly be a blow for the Whitecaps, they will expect to parlay those transfers into further big moves, provided they can convince the new players to come. A midsummer transfer would be a blow, no doubt, but if they can prepare themselves to be ready for that possibly happening, a winter move could prove to be beneficial for all parties involved. 

Contract situations

Vancouver is well-positioned from a contract standpoint, as they have plenty of security in how they structured the deals of In Beom and Adnan, with Hwang, the South Korean international, having a guaranteed deal through 2020, with team options for 2021 and 2022, while Adnan, an Iraqi international, is signed through 2021, with a club option for 2022. 

By setting up their deals as such, it suggests that the Whitecaps expect 2 more full seasons from both DPs, before getting sold at the end of 2021. While they both have options for 2022, those would likely be exercised in anticipation of a sale, enabling them to receive a transfer fee from any interested parties. 

That doesn’t mean things are set in stone, but it certainly gives an idea of the timeline Vancouver is anticipating to work with, any potential surprises pending. They have a short-term window of 2 years to chase success with Adnan and Hwang, but with Cavallini, Max Crepeau, Jhesser Khemiri, Derek Cornelius, Erik Godoy, Jake Nerwinski and their latest reported signing, Cristian Dajome, all being 26 and under, that window extends to around 4 or 5 years on a more long-term plan. 

Future sales impact that possible window, as it’s entirely possible any of those aforementioned names move on to Europe or elsewhere, but it indicates the sort of timeline that the Caps are expecting to work with here. With Axel Schuster promising to improve the Youth Developmental system, having a long-term window will be important in order to give him enough time to start promoting academy graduates to the first team, while a short-term window will still encourage them to chase upgrades to ensure that In Beom’s and Adnan’s stays on the West Coast aren’t wasted.

Sale value

In Beom, Adnan and Russell Teibert arrive at a match in Portland at Providence Park (Keveren Guillou)

Part of why Vancouver will want to be competitive in that long-term window is because of the resale value of In Beom and Adnan, something of which the Whitecaps will want to capitalize on. Part of the reason they invested a reported 1.8 million dollar fee in In Beom was to give him a segway towards Europe, so they’ll want to make at least that number back, if not double or triple. 

With a similarily hefty fee splashed out on Adnan, when Vancouver moves on from the pair, be it at the end of 2020 or 2021, they will want to receive significant payouts, the sum of which stands to be impacted based on how competitive they end up being in the short term. While Adnan and In Beom are talented enough to shine on their own, it’s in everyone’s best interests to be competitive, especially if the Whitecaps both want to compete and move on the pair for competitive fees when the time is right. 

It’ll be a blow at first, but as the sale of Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich showed, selling upwards is a sign of the MLS’s development, and it should be encouraged, not denied. It’s never easy to explain to some fans that two of their star players were sold simply because they got offered a lot of money, but in a convoluted global footballing pyramid, that’s a reality many other smaller leagues have to face. 

And given that the 3 DP spots allow teams to splash out hefty fees for anyone they can convince to come to MLS, don’t expect it to slow down anytime soon, especially as teams chase younger and younger DPs each year. As Atlanta masterfully showed with their handling of Miguel Almiron, who they recouped a chill $27 million dollar sum for, 2 years after they bought him for a hefty $8 million fee, if you’re willing to splash the cash on younger players, the investment can pay off further down the road. 

Atlanta wasn’t hampered on the field by the transfer, either, as they used the money to pursue the high-priced Pity Martinez, allowing them to have another strong 2020 season. While the Whitecaps aren’t quite at this level, even despite the $15 million + (depending on options) they got for Davies, these investments in resellable DPs such as Adnan, In Beom, and even Cavallini, show that they’re on the right path. 

If they can continue to pay forward the Davies money, turning Adnan and In Beom into more talented and sellable players, it will pay off in the long-term, especially if they surround these DPs with the right talent, ensuring a competitive team in the short-term. With the expired CBA also looking to promise change, it’s only a matter of time until all teams in MLS are encouraged to become a transitional selling league, so it’s good to see the Whitecaps jump ahead of that curve. 

So for now, as they continue to chase these younger DPs, the goal will be to achieve competitive balance, especially when the time comes to sell them. That will mean identifying good supporting pieces, developing more youth and ensuring a consistent philosophy in coaching and recruiting players, but with Schuster and Marc Dos Santos at the helm, that appears to be the plan now going into motion. 

Hwang In Beom interview

But until those sales actually happen, be it in 6 months, 1 year or even 2 years, the Whitecaps still have several games to play, with In Beom and Adnan still key parts of their squad. Over the course of the weekend, we got to see some insight on how In Beom feels heading into 2020, thanks to an interview with Paul Neat of KLeague United (you can check that out here), as he got the chance to talk with the midfielder in December. 

They talked about several subjects, with the most interesting bits coming when In Beom spoke of his up and down 2019 season, his favourite position and his plans for the future, amongst other subjects. 

Firstly, he spoke of his debut season, where he had flashes at times for Vancouver, but often seemed fatigued after playing consistently for nearly 2 years straight, which is something you can tell eats at him. With the DP tag attached to him, he knows with it comes pressure, and he wants to deliver more this coming year.

“I’m not satisfied because we are the worst team in the league”, he told Paul Neat. “I didn’t play so well in some games. Of course, sometimes I played very well in some games but I know that I could do a better job as a DP (Designated Player). Next season, if I stay in Vancouver for half a year or one year I want to do much better than last season – it was very tough for me.”

With Vancouver’s struggles also playing a part in his performance, another big thing that impacted him was a lack of support in the midfield, something the club is looking to address this season. They tried a couple of things to help their cause, including putting In Beom at the #6, with his defensive and passing skills in mind, but it did little to help their issues transitioning the ball from back to front. 

But heading into 2020, In Beom looks to be firmly slotted in at the #8 position, with the other pieces to come in expecting to surround him. With the endless debate on whether or not he’s a #6, #8, or even a #10, he put fire to some of those talks, telling Neat that the #8 appears to be the way for him to go. 

“I prefer number eight to six or 10 because I like to play and do running from our own half to their half, and our penalty box to their penalty box,” he told Neat. “I don’t like to play like [Sergio] Busquets, too deep, so I think number eight is the most comfortable position for me but at the same time I have to adapt to play number six or number 10 because this will be of benefit to me.”

Lastly, he spoke of his future, as he admitted that he wants to go to Europe as soon as possible. He doesn’t want to hurt Vancouver, and would obviously work something out with them ahead of a move, but he does admit if something comes as early as this summer, he’d like to take it. 

As we mentioned earlier, In Beom’s contract runs until 2022, which means that if he is sold this summer, or next winter, it will fetch the Whitecaps a hefty sum. 

“I don’t know, the club knows that’ Inbeom wants to play in Europe’,” In Beom said. “I don’t want to be hasty to the clubs, [because] I still want to play in Europe. If I can go to Europe this winter, I will go – next summer as well [I could go]. I want to be there as fast as I can. Before, I’d like to play in Germany because there was and there are a lot of Asian players, and Korean players [in Bundesliga] so it means they like Asian players and as I heard from Koo [Jacheol] and Ji Dongwon, Bundesliga likes Korean players’ ambition, attitude of playing, so it made me want to play in Germany.

For Vancouver, the more ideal scenario would be next winter, allowing the Caps to activate his 2021 option, fetching a decent fee for the midfielder. That would then allow him 4-5 months to adapt with his new club, before resting for the summer and entering 2021-2022 fresh, sort of like what Alphonso Davies did with Bayern. 

Either way, it’s good to see In Beom showing that he wants to be here next year, even despite speaking of moving on. He knows that the better he plays, the higher he can go, which also helps Vancouver, who will receive better compensation in that case, along with the standout performances from the South Korean. It was always going to be a short-term relationship between In Beom and Vancouver, and while the plan appears to be for it to happen at the end of 2021, they’ve set themselves up nicely to handle a 2020 transfer.

Looking Forward

What remains clear here, as is the case with many other situations around the club, there are lots of moving parts when it comes to the futures of Adnan, In Beom and the Whitecaps squad. The CBA could play a role, possibly allowing teams to spend more, while one or both of Adnan and In Beom being sold as soon as this summer would also change their course, forcing the Caps to move onto their next DP splash earlier than anticipated. 

With them still in the fold for now, however, the goal will be to continue and implement the plans laid out by Schuster and Dos Santos, while also preparing for an eventual sale. If Vancouver can build up their rest of their team, they can aim to have a strong 2020, as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017, and win the Voyageurs Cup for the first time since 2015.

In that case, if Adnan and In Beom move on at the end of the year, at least it will be in more positive circumstances than when Davies moved on, at the tail end of a year where the Whitecaps missed the playoffs despite the heroics of the youngster. Adnan and In Beom, much like Davies was, are fan-favourites here (not to the same extent, but they both have significant fan groups both here and in their home countries), and fans would probably be more open to them leaving under the high of a positive season. 

But ultimately, what is clear is that Adnan and In Beom are now linked both to the present and the future of this team, as their talent will help this game improve in the now, while the looming sales will allow the Whitecaps to invest in further quality talent, also putting them even more on the global footballing map. After receiving the reputation boost provided by the sale of Davies, it’ll be good for them to show that they can be a segway for young players looking to move up, both for those abroad and the ones already in the academy. 

With these potential sales of Adnan and In Beom looking to be far away, however, at least when you consider that an end of 2020 sale still means that a full season will be played before that happens, it’ll be fun to watch their play for the upcoming year. After a trying 2019, things are looking up heading into 2020, and hopefully these two can play a big part in Vancouver’s attempts to rise. 

As the Whitecaps look to join the elite of MLS, both on and off the pitch, their play will go a long way towards that one day happening. 

4 thoughts on “Moving Up: Analyzing the futures of Ali Adnan and Hwang In Beom on the Vancouver Whitecaps

  1. A “segway” is a motorized two-wheeled vehicle. I know that In Beom has been playing a lot of football the past two years but I’m guessing that this coming season he’ll be able to run around the pitch on his own.

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