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Shin Hyung-min has already earned a reputation of being one of Pro League's hard men. Mike Young / The National
Shin Hyung-min has already earned a reputation of being one of Pro League's hard men. Mike Young / The National

Al Jazira's Shin Hyung-min a family guy who has a hard approach on the field

The South Korean centre-back is steadfast in his determination to win games for his club and learn English, writes Amith Passela.

Language has not been a barrier for Shin Hyung-min on the pitch. Off it, however, Al Jazira's South Korean centre-back has had a hard time striking up conversations with his teammates.

He has started a crash course in English and has picked up a few words in the past six months. He says he has reached a level where he can strike up a conversation with some confidence.

"There are no issues on the pitch," Shin said through a translator. "I can communicate in the universally accepted football language when I am on the pitch. But off it, it has been a bit of a problem. I am getting better now.

"I don't feel left out because of the language barrier. Everyone around makes me as comfortable as possible. My teammates keep me engaged in whatever they do and discuss, and try their best to explain whatever goes around in the dressing room.

"This is the first time I am playing outside my country and a little bit of English will help me to get around not only with those at the club but outside it, as well. I don't find language is a problem, though, as people are very friendly here."

Shin can cook, and he says plenty of Korean foodstuffs are available in the supermarkets.

However, the past six weeks have been a lonely struggle for him in his apartment as his wife returned to Korea to give birth to their first child.

They are expected back in Abu Dhabi over the weekend and Shin says he is keen to reunite with his wife, and meet his one-month-old daughter.

"I used to go out with my wife when she was here but since she left home it has been a lonesome wait. I watch television and cook my meals, and that takes all the free time," he said.

Shin has adapted to the hard life of a footballer living away from home. He works twice a day on his fitness as well as his team training.

"Football is my job and I have to keep myself in good shape, which means the continuity of the work," he said. "I am prepared to go any distance to meet the levels I am required to perform and help my club achieve their goals."

He has quickly established a reputation as one of the league's hard men.

Shin is a sturdy 1.82 metres and is adept at knocking opponents off the ball. He never shies from contact, as his six cautions in Pro League matches would suggest.

He spent four seasons with Pohang Steelers, including in 2009, when they won the AFC Champions League and played in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. He started all three games, and converted a penalty in a successful shoot-out in the third-place game.

Shin, 26, had received offers from China before signing a two-year deal with Jazira in the summer.

"It is a new experience and challenge for me," he said. "The Pro League is only in its fifth year. There is a long way for the UAE to go but it is in a good level with a lot of top foreign players.

"In Korea, professionalism runs a little longer. The players sometimes train three times a day."

Shin is a strict disciplinarian. His work ethic and cheery outlook have impressed his teammates and technical staff.

"Shin is a versatile player who can easily fit in to any role in the defence or the midfield," said Paulo Bonamigo, the former coach of Jazira who parted company with the Abu Dhabi club last month.

"He shows a high level of concentration and positional awareness for a player who can rush forward and then fall back in defence for the full length of the game.

"He has the technical skills, speed, strength and stamina, and that makes him an important player for us."

Bonamigo's sentiments are shared by the players and club officials. Ali Al Nuaimi, the club spokesman, said Shin always tries to be as close as possible to the players and technical staff.

"As a player, he is a true professional," he said. "As a person, he is one of the friendliest people around. He is always with a smile and could keep the dressing room in high spirits with his antics."

Shin had impressed even before he moved to Jazira in the summer.

"Shin is the best right-back in the K-League," his club coach at Pohang Steelers said, when he was called up for the national team for the first time in September 2010.

"He has the skill and the mentality to go into the national team and make the spot his own and keep it until the World Cup and beyond.

"As a coach, he is a perfect player as he is so disciplined, both tactically and physically. He will never stop going forward and coming back and will do whatever the team needs him to do with no questions asked.

"He deserves his chance and I am sure will take it with both hands as he is just that kind of player and person."

apassela@thenational.ae

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