Pros 02.07.2019 — 17:20 Uhr

Striker or attacking midfielder—or some combination of the two

Veteran Bundesliga player Dong-Won Ji brings quality and stabilty to a youthful Mainz squad

Ji on Monday afternoon in a duel against Ridle Baku.

It happened on the second day of pre-season training: a crunching tackle and a hard hit to Dong-Won Ji’s right shin. It was the first painful experience in a new setting for the attacker, who joined on a free from FC Augsburg and is looking to become a starter for 1. FSV Mainz 05. His two biggest goals for this season? “To score more goals than previously and to stay injury-free,” said the 27-year-old South Korean international during his first appearance in front of the local media.

Luckily, the injury from training was a minor one. On Tuesday morning, the new signing took part in the next intense training session at the Bruchwegstadion. “It’s normal that something like that happens,” said Ji, who has not always managed to make it through the season without picking up an injury. The oddest and lengthiest of his career so far has likely been the injury he picked up on matchday 3 last season in the Opel Arena. Ji put Augsburg up 1-0 in the 82nd minute during a fast-paced end to the match, but twisted his ankle after leaping up to celebrate his goal, leading to months of recovery. Mainz were able to turn the match around to win 2-1 due to goals from Anthony Ujah and Alex Maxim. Ji picked up a ligament injury in his left knee. “I played well that day, and the atmosphere was great,” said Ji. “In the future I won’t jump so high when celebrating.”

Dortmund, Augsburg and Darmstadt

During his time with Dortmund during the 2014/15 season two lengthy injuries kept him from developing further. Ji has been living in Germany for seven years now, speaks the language and has picked up international experience with AFC Sunderland in England as well as numerous caps for his home country. Ji is well-versed in the world of German football and knows what is expected of players in the Bundesliga, having had stints at Dortmund, Augsburg and a loan-spell to SV Darmstadt 98.

“Overall, I spent five years in Augsburg and I could’ve spent a couple more years there. However, I had the feeling I needed some new motivation and a new challenge,” said Ji. The transfer from Augsburg to Mainz happened as a result of Sandro Schwarz and Rouven Schröder looking for exactly this type of player. Ji’s contract with Augsburg was also up, and the club’s ambitions for the future convinced the South Korean to make the switch. The attacker is able to play various positions, can score with both feet and brings a new level of quality and stability to the youthful Mainz squad. “Dong-Won is a flexible attacker who can play many different positions in multiple formations. His football skills are solid and he is very athletic. We wanted both quality and versatility,” Schwarz said about signing the 27-year-old. “In a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 he is able to play on the wings, or as a second striker, or even as an attacking/central midfielder in a diamond formation. I always find it interesting when a player isn’t set on one formation.”

“I’m a team player”

As for Ji, he says he enjoys playing up front the most. “As a striker, or an attacking midfielder—or some combination of the two,” Ji said. “I think being in the centre works best for me. I’m a team player and enjoy tactics—if it has to do with high-pressing or combination play, then that works well for me. ‘Pass and move’ is something that’s important to me: winning the ball and carrying it forward.”

In any case, he feels as though he fits in at Mainz. “Augsburg are quick to switch over and play down the wings more. Mainz look to play deep with lots of attacking action coming from the centre of the field. That’s fun for me,” said the new signing, who is not afraid of the competition within the squad. “If you train well then you will get the chance to show what you can do on the pitch,” Ji said.