Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mixed Season For Korea's English Quartet

As the referee blew his whistle at the end of Saturday’s FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea ended, he also called time on the 2006/07 English season.

So what better time to take a quick look at how the English Premier League’s quartet of South Korean football stars have fared?

Park Ji-sung (Manchester United)

Korea’s Premier League pioneer Park has been unlucky.

The midfielder was solid rather than spectacular in his first campaign at Old Trafford and his legion of fans were hopeful he would hit the heights in the second.

He didn’t at first. An ankle injury sustained in September kept him out of action for three months. Upon his return in at the end of the year, the former PSV Eindhoven star started to find his rhythm. As United battled for glory in England and Europe, Park started to add the one thing that had been missing since he joined the club in July 2005 – goals.

Two of them came against Bolton in March. One more was added in the next game against Blackburn which took his return for the season to an impressive five goals in 14 games. That was Park’s last contribution to United’s title challenge as the knee ligament damage that he picked up during that game on March 31 necessitated surgery in April and recovery in the summer.

Despite the injuries Park should be pleased with his contribution to the United cause and the fact that he is the first Asian player to win a Premier League championship medal.

“Park has been a great player for us. His energy and his work rate are great. He always makes space for the players and runs for the team. I have played a few times with him in computer games.He's a good player but a bad loser. He tends to shout a lot when he loses” – Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney.

Lee Young-pyo (Tottenham and South Korea)

Like Park, Lee’s season was going well before it also came to a premature end on the operating table.

The left-back almost left Spurs last August. Only a last-minute change of mind prevented him from joining Italian giants Roma.

It was a brave decision as, at that point, Lee had lost his place in the starting eleven to Cameroonian rival Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The Korean fought his way back into the affections of coach Martin Jol and made a total of 31 appearances before damaging his knee ligaments against Sevilla on April 6.

Lee remains a player that divides opinion among Tottenham fans. Some feel he is lacking as a defender while others believe he is under-rated and consistent.

“I will not join Roma. I changed my mind for personal reasons. I will explain in more detail when I arrive in Korea but it had nothing to do with religion.” – Lee Young-pyo.

Seol Ki-hyeon (Reading and South Korea)

Seol’s season has been the proverbial roller-coaster ride.

The attacker joined newly-promoted Reading FC last summer and, like the team, he adjusted to life in the top tier with the minimum of fuss. So much so that he was named as the club’s best player for both August and September.

As autumn faded, so did Seol’s form. This is hardly a new phenomenon as fans of previous clubs Wolverhampton Wanderers and Anderlecht would confirm.

From the end of December to the end of March, “The Sniper” failed to start a single game. There were rumours of moves to other teams, there still are, but as the season entered its final leg, Seol was recalled to the line-up and scored his fourth goal of the season on the final day.

Unfortunately however, the player is due to have an ankle operation and will probably miss the Asian Cup in July.

“It takes time to get used to the Premier League and playing in a new team, but I feel that I've fitted in well,” Seol Ki-hyeon.

Lee Dong-gook (Middlesbrough)

The Lion King is the newest of the quartet and the only one currently injury free, though that could be because he has had little playing time since heading to England’s north-east in January.

Lee has yet failed to score despite hitting the post in his first game. In his defence, he has only made three starts and it is next season when the pressure will be on the former Pohang player to start performing.

"He just needs time on the field to get used to the game here. But he has got clear quality, you can see that in training. We know he is really going to come through more next season." Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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