By Sergio Perez and Sabela Ojea
ILLESCAS, Spain (Reuters) – Qum FC’s players speak little Spanish, but the team composed entirely of expatriate South Korean footballers won’t let the language barrier hold them back as they strive through Spain’s lower leagues dreaming of one day taking on Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Qum, which translates as “dream”, are not alone as an all-expat lineup competing in an official league but what makes them special is that many of the players have found new hope over 10,000km away from home, after having troubling experiences with unscrupulous sports agents.
This month, the team won their second promotion in as many seasons to reach the top league of Spain’s central Castilla-La Mancha region, putting them one step away from the third division of Spain’s national league.
“It would be very emotional for Korean people if a Korean team like ours could play the Copa del Rey against a strong team,” said club president and founder Daeho Kim, a South Korean entrepreneur and huge fan of Spanish football. He watches every one of Qum’s games.
He says he wants to give young players an opportunity in Spain worth dreaming of, so they can avoid the trap of sport agents in Korea, who too often lure players with promises of a bright future only to cheat them out of income and prospects.
“South Korea is one of the most affected countries (by this phenomenon). Unfortunately, it doesn’t only affect adults, but also minors,” said Qum general manager Ruben Cano, a Spaniard who used to work for Real Madrid schools around the world.
Midfielder Jaehyeok Kim, 21, was picked by Qum after open auditions in Korea and has a full grant to live and play in Spain. Like several of his team mates he has had what he calls, without going into details, a “bad experience with a sports agent while playing in Thailand”.
He now feels “very comfortable” in Spain after overcoming early difficulties to adapt and after picking up some Spanish from his local girlfriend. He and other players also attend weekly language classes in the historical city of Toledo, not far from their base in Illescas.
“There’s always something that gets lost along the way, but as time passes they get to know me, and I get to know them, so the percentage of lost messages decreases,” said coach Pedro Velasco. The team’s fitness trainer also acts as his translator.
In one match, Jaehyeok Kim had his father, Yongchul, watching him play.
“He is very far from home, but I am very proud of my son who is challenging himself to achieve his dreams and is going forward. To me as a father it feels impressive,” said Yongchul, who flew in from the city of Gwanju for a visit.
(Reporting by Sabela Ojea; editing by Andrei Khalip and Alexandra Hudson)