North Korean Soccer Talent Tests Defenses and Sanctions

Han, now 19, is North Korean. He arrived in Italy three years ago through an idiosyncratic arrangement between I.S.M. and the North Korean soccer federation that has brought dozens of the hermetic nation’s most promising young players to Corciano.

Han wasted little time distinguishing himself. Liverpool expressed interest soon after he arrived, and Dominici said Manchester City and Fiorentina, among others, also called before Han signed his first professional contract, with Cagliari in Serie A, at the start of this year. This season, on loan to the second-division club Perugia, he recorded six goals and an assist in his first 11 games.

This auspicious form has earned Han the attention of even more big clubs. It has also raised the eyebrows of some members of the Italian parliament, who last year initiated an inquiry into the legal status of another young North Korean product of I.S.M. and who continue to wonder whether the players are free from the control of their government, or if their mere employment violates longstanding international sanctions against North Korea.

Han’s young career, then, has felt like an experiment in which the range of outcomes has yet to be…

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