Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

Busy, Busy, Busy.
Korean football fans have a two-tier season. Not only does the K-League run from the end of February to the beginning of December, the European season and the overseas Taeguk Warriors, just recovered from the World Cup, are just getting started.

The best-known of these is, of course, Park Ji-sung. When he signed for Manchester United back in July 2005, few would have expected that he would be embarking on a sixth season at one of the world’s biggest clubs. This campaign promises to be one of the most open seasons in the English Premier League for years with the usual suspects such as United, Chelsea and Arsenal battling for the top prize with big spenders Manchester City adding an interesting extra element.

Park enjoyed a very good World Cup in South Africa and can expect to enjoy a fair amount of playing time over the next few months. The 29 year-old played a big part in the second half of the season last time round as United finished second behind Chelsea but struggled in the first half due to injuries sustained while in action for the national team.

So the sight last Wednesday of Park sitting on the bench in the second half of South Korea’s friendly match against Nigeria with ice strapped around his knee would have been a worry for fans of the Red Devils but Park is fit and raring to go, though he sat out the team's 3-0 opening match win over Newcastle United on Monday night.

Interest is always high in Park’s exploits with the 18-time English champions, now looking for a record 19th title, but many eyes will also be fixed just a few miles north of Manchester to see how Lee Chung-yong performs with Bolton Wanderers.

The winger joined the club in the summer of 2009 and immediately impressed. He was one of Bolton’s best players and contributed with five goals and a number of assists. What was more impressive is that Lee, still just 22, arrived at the start of the English season after over six months of football in Korea. The recent rest he had after the 2010 World Cup was his first break since the end of 2008. And after a good performance in South Africa, he is ready for another good season.

I had the chance recently to have to talk to Park Ji-sung at the National Football Center in Paju and he was fulsome in praise for his young national team colleague.

“He showed last season unbelievably well in the Premier League with Bolton,” said Park. “And then with the national team as well. He is a player who is getting bigger in the national team as well. So, hopefully, he will get more experience and he can take my place.

“He is very talented. He has good skills, a good mentality and is good physically, he may not be physically strong yet but he can learn all that. He is smart and, hopefully, can continue growing in this way to become the best player in our country.”

The Seoul media is also a fan of Lee but is concerned that he may fall victim to second season syndrome as he is no longer an unknown quantity. That remains to be seen though Lee himself recently admitted that he was taken aback at just how well his first season in England went.

“At first I was worried because it was my first time playing in a European league. But I was so surprised that everyone was welcoming, my team-mates and the fans," said Lee.

"My ambition was to play as many games as I could. Now I have done that, I am proud of what I have achieved. The pressure was not on me as there was no expectation as I was unknown here. I like a quiet life so living in England suits me as player."

North of the border, two World Cup stars play for Scottish giants Celtic. Ki Sung-yong arrived in Glasgow in January. The 21 year-old didn’t get much playing time but that looks likely to change this time around as he has been active in midfield in the club’s pre-season. He has been joined at Parkhead by right-back Cha Du-ri.

The remaining veteran of South Africa playing in Europe is Park Chu-young. The striker, just turned 25, impressed at the World Cup after two good seasons in France with AS Monaco. He could be on the move before the August 31 deadline.

Moves to England are still rumoured but not with the same intensity of a month ago. Still, in football, you never quite know what will happen and that is the beauty of the game as will be demonstrated once more over the coming months –both in Europe and Korea.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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