After 33 years with Napoli in Italy’s Serie A, the South Korean defender moved on after just one year to join German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. While local reviews have been mixed, the 27-year-old’s playing time shows just how much Munich coach Thomas Tuchel trusts him.
Now it’s time for the ‘Iron Man’ to rest. The Bavarians face Copenhagen (Denmark) at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, at 5:00 a.m. on June 30 in Group A of the 2023-2024 UEFA Champions League (UCL).
With four wins in four matches, Munich have already secured a spot in the round of 16 by topping their group. In a game where there is no reason to overdo it, the defensive stalwart Kim Min-jae will be rested.
Kim hasn’t participated in training for two days in the lead-up to the Copenhagen game. As a result, local media such as Germany’s Bild expected Kim to be rested against Copenhagen. They also predicted that midfielder Leon Goretzka would be deployed at the back alongside Dayo Upamecano.
UEFA, who had initially predicted Kim Min-jae to start, also added him to the list of players who are doubtful. They also predicted that Goretzka would start at the back.
Kim Min-jae has been relentless. In the team’s 19 matches since opening day, Kim has played in 18 of them, including 17 starts. Starting meant full time. There were only two occasions when Kim did not play the full 90 minutes.
In total, he played 1547 minutes of regular time. That’s more than any other player in Munich. Harry Kane, who joined the team this summer to spearhead the team’s attack, has played 1529 minutes, followed by Leroy Sane with 1428 minutes.
As much as Kim Min-jae has been on fire, it’s also because of the team’s circumstances. Since the beginning of the season, Matthijs de Ligt and Layo Upamecano have alternately suffered from injuries.
Only Kim Min-jae has been able to hold down the center back position. That’s why he couldn’t catch a break. Munich is unbeaten in 12 league games (10 wins, 2 draws, 32 points), but is second in the table behind Bayer Leverkusen (34 points). It’s a tense situation.
Even in the UCL, they had to run out of gas before they could consolidate their lead. Upamecano returned, but it wasn’t easy to find a replacement for Kim Min-jae. In the end, Kim kept running.
He even played for the national team, splitting time between South Korea and Germany. For head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, Kim was an absolute stalwart, playing the full two Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup North and Central America and only taking 14 minutes off in two friendlies last month. He also played two consecutive games in the September trials.
He traveled to Germany after the national team game and took three days off, which led to a dizzying situation against Cologne on the 25th.
There was also a dizzying moment in the away match against Cologne. In the 14th minute of the first half, after fighting for an aerial ball with an opposing striker, he fell down and couldn’t get up for a while. The medical team was called in to help Kim Min-jae with his back, but thankfully it was not a serious injury.
It was a tough time for Kim Min-jae to join the team this season and adjust to a new league, especially considering that he had to go through basic military training before the season and had a three-week training gap, which made it difficult for him to get his fitness up to par.
Tuchel’s decision and comments are therefore disappointing. Tuchel didn’t play a single substitute in Cologne, and in his official pre-match press conference in Copenhagen, he said, “There is a possibility to rotate, but this is the Champions League,” adding, “We had a long break from Friday to Wednesday. We don’t want to show that the competition is not important, even if we are top of the group.”
Nonetheless, it’s a sigh of relief that the team will get a break this time around. It will be the first time we’ve seen Kim Min-jae start a game off the bench in over two months, since he played against third-tier Prussia Münster on September 27.