Friday, September 14, 2007

Ahn In Hot Water For Losing Cool

Ahn In Hot Water For Losing Cool.
Ahn Jung-hwan was labelled “Asia’s Beckham” after the 2002 World Cup, a handsome star who made global headlines for dumping Italy out of the competition. Five years later, he almost became the Asian version of one of Beckham’s former Manchester United team-mates, Eric Cantona.

Cantona famously jump-kicked a fan in the chest in 1995 before raining punches on the shocked leather-jacketed spectator. The Frenchman always had a feisty side and lost his cool in the heat of a vital Premier League game. Few suspected that the normally placid Ahn Jung-hwan would follow, partly, in his footsteps.

It all happened on a quiet Monday afternoon in the practice ground next to Seoul World Cup Stadium. The game wasn’t even a K-League match, just a reserve game between FC Seoul and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The two clubs may be rivals but reserve games are usually gentle affairs, designed to give young players experience, recovering players match time and out-of-form stars, like Ahn, a chance to rediscover their sharpness away from the spotlight.

A hero of the 2002 and 2006 World Cups for his country, it is well-known that the 31 year-old’s club career has failed to hit the same heights. Short stints with mediocre European teams in 2005 and 2006 ended when relegated German team MSV Duisberg declined the chance to extend Ahn’s contract and the player was without a club for four months. Returning reluctantly to Korea at the start of 2007, he joined Suwon Samsung Bluewings but despite a promising start and a hat-trick in the Hauzen Cup, the striker has struggled and has been reduced to occasional substitute cameos.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for one of Asia’s best-known stars and that is what some of the shouts alluded to in Seoul last week. Perhaps a single shrilly-shouted comment cuts to the bone more effectively that the dull roar of thousands of voices. After 33 minutes of the game, Ahn could take no more jibes about how far he had fallen and when he was going to use his famous wedding-ring kissing celebration and abruptly left the pitch and entered the seating area.

“Why are you saying these things,” he bellowed at the supposed source of the jibes before being frogmarched away by security and shown a red card by the referee.

“It is people like you that stop the K-League developing,” he managed to shout before he disappeared.”

Quite why shouting at Ahn Jung-hwan damages the K-League we will never know but it is easy to sympathize with the player. Video footage of the incident didn’t make for pleasant viewing for those who remember 2002 but leaving the pitch in such a way is a big no-no. The Korean media suggested that the best way to deal with such idiots is to be like Ronaldinho-smile and score. Ahn had already scored but there were few smiles on display.

“Even in Europe where racism can be serious, I have never experienced that,” said Ahn the next day. Two days later he was hauled before the K-League disciplinary committee and fined 10,000,000 Korean Won (around $10,000) but no ban, apart from the one he will serve for receiving a red card, was issued.

At the hearing Ahn was more contrite but still obviously upset at what happened: “‘I would like to say sorry to the fans for my actions during the game,” he said and added. “Before they became players, players were just normal people. It would be good if Korea’s fan culture could change.”

He may get his wish, Seoul fans apologized for the actions of the few and resolved to stick to ‘clean supporting’, cheering on their own team rather than attacking opponents, though this is hardly rife in the K-League.

One part of Korean culture hasn’t changed and the cyber-hunt for the women responsible for most of the remarks was quickly underway. Before long, her cyworld (similar to myspace) page and cellphone number were found though doubts remain as to whether the mob have their mousehairs trained on the right person.

In the style of Korean players in trouble, as perfected by 2002 and 2006 World Cup team-mate Lee Chun-soo, Ahn has promised a period of deep reflection regarding his behavior. He should also take the time to think about what to do to rescue a career that is in danger of ending with a wasted whimper.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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