The World Cup is coming, here you can find out a little bit about the players making the trip to Brazil.
Name: Park Chu-Young (박주영)
Senior Caps: 62
Club: Watford/Arsenal (England)
Position: Center forward
A roller coaster ride is perhaps the best way to describe Park Chu-Young’s (Ju-Young) career. Park burst onto the Korean scene as a U20 player when Korea won the AFC Youth Championship in 2004 with Park being named the best player at the tournament. Park then proceeded to sign with FC Seoul at the tender age of 19 in 2005. Park did exceptionally well with his new club and scored 12 league goals in his first season. Park’s pace and eye for goal earned him rave reviews and he was touted as the next big thing for Korean football. But the following years proved less successful for Park, but he still earned his European move in 2008 to AS Monaco. It was there that Park really made his name internationally, as he instantly became a regular for the principality. In his first year Park scored five goals, the next year eight, and then in his final season with Monaco he scored 12. At the end of the 2010/11 season, Monaco was relegated to Ligue 2. Park was on the verge of moving to current French champions Lille. So close was Park to the move that he was about to have a medical for them, when Arsenal came calling. The lure of the London giants proved too strong for Park and he quickly departed for London. The next three years proved to be an ugly sight. Park was never given a chance to show what he had for Arsenal, spending time on the bench and with the reserves. Loan moves to Celta Vigo in Spain and Watford in the English Championship didn’t produce the necessary goods to get other teams interested. Off the field Park wasn’t doing much better. His dislike for speaking with the media made him few friends in his new surroundings, and in Korea word leaked that he had secured a 10 year residency certificate in Monaco, effectively allowing him to defer his mandatory military service in Korea until he was in his late 30’s. The public accused him of draft-dodging and called for his head. Park didn’t appear for the senior side, but Hong Myeong-Bo (then U23 coach) controversially brought him into the Olympic set up. The move paid off as Park scored the opening goal against Japan in the bronze medal match, a game which Korea ended up winning 2-0.
The key question now with Park Chu-Young is, which Park are you going to get? Despite barely playing beforehand, when Park returned to the national team fold in March against Greece, he almost instantly showed his quality. Dropping deep to help the build up play, making a defense splitting pass for Lee Chung-Yong, and a superb first-time finish to score the opening goal. Yet, just last week against Tunisia we saw the “club” Park. Slow, lazy, anonymous. At the top level, Park has the ability to be a game changer. A goal box predator, quick, intelligent, and full of veteran savvy, but it remains to be seen whether he is still able to consistently perform at that level.
Two years ago, Hong Myeong-Bo put his faith in Park Chu-Young when he called him up to the Olympic team. Now, Hong is doing it once more on the biggest stage of all. Hong’s fate will almost certainly be tied to that of Park’s. If Park delivers the goods, Hong will be hailed as a gambler who got rewarded. If Park fails, Hong will be criticized as a manager who put too much faith in past performances. With their fates tied together, Park will certainly start against Russia, but his future after the World Cup is very much in doubt. Arsenal has put Park on the free transfer list, so he should finally be able to move on to another club next season. What club that is remains to be seen, as the last three years have heavily damaged his reputation in Europe and at home.
Name: Koo Ja-Cheol (구자철)
Senior Caps: 35
Club: Mainz 05 (Germany)
Position: Attacking midfield/second striker
Hong Myeong-Bo’s captain for the World Cup. Koo started his professional career with Jeju United after then manager Jung Hae-Sung spotted Koo at a youth tournament. Koo joined Jeju in 2007, but didn’t play much. His chance eventually came in 2009 and he became an increasingly important part of the team. In 2010 Jeju finished 2nd in the league, an incredible turnaround from the season before when they finished 14th. At that time, Koo played in a more orthodox central midfield, and while he didn’t score many goals, he was hugely influential for them. That year Koo won several personal awards including fans’ player of the year, top assistor, and made the K League’s best XI. Koo Ja-Cheol made his senior national team debut way back in 2008 at the East Asian Cup, coming on as a second half substitute for Yeom Ki-Hoon in the opening match against China. Koo wouldn’t make too many more appearances for the senior side over the next couple years, but became a more regular fixture following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. New coach Cho Kwang-Rae started building his side around the more creative players, and Koo Ja-Cheol was one of the main men in his team. Koo burst onto the world stage at the 2011 Asian Cup, where he finished top scorer (five goals), showing a great sense of timing late, penetrating runs into the box. That performance sealed his move to Europe with German outfit Wolfsburg securing his services. Koo struggled at Wolfsburg, but a loan move to Augsburg allowed him to showcase his skills. Koo was key in Augsburg’s miracle survival that season. The next season, Koo was once again loaned to Augsburg, but that year injuries plagued him and he had a limited impact. Wolfsburg recalled him in 2013/14, but he struggled again and was eventually sold to Mainz.
Koo Ja-Cheol has very good technical ability, is strong, and can make well-timed late runs into the box. In terms of non-footballing skills, Koo is also known to be a good leader in the locker room, hence Hong’s decision to name him captain of the senior and U23 sides.On the pitch, Koo is a very passionate player and is known to occasionally lose his cool. Koo has also had problems with injuries in the past, missing significant time with Jeju, Augsburg, and Mainz.
Being named captain, it seems that Koo Ja-Cheol is virtually certain to start at the World Cup. However, due to missing a lot of time with Mainz (injury), Koo’s form hasn’t been very good lately, prompting some calls for him to be benched. That’s unlikely to happen, but if Koo’s form doesn’t pick up expect him to see more competition for the starting spot after the World Cup.
Name: Kim Shin-Wook (김신욱)
Senior Caps: 26
Club: Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)
Position: Center forward
“The Wookie”. Kim Shin-Wook has spent his entire club career with Ulsan Hyundai, who he signed for in 2009. Originally, Kim Shin-Wook played as a centerback, likely due to his imposing physical size. But, after signing with Ulsan he was converted to a forward. Initial results were sketchy, as Kim struggled to adjust, but over the years he’s shown remarkable growth as a forward. In 2009 he scored seven league goals, seven again in 2010, eight in 2011, 13 in 2012, and 19 in 2013. This season he’s on pace, once again, to better his goal return than the season before (six in 11 matches). For national team, Kim Shin-Wook made his debut against Zambia in a friendly in 2010. Kim has yet to repeat his scoring feats for the senior side, as he’s netted only three goals in 26 appearances. Figuring out how to utilize Kim’s particular skill set has been a challenging task for national team managers, as none have really found the answer yet.
His size makes Kim Shin-Wook an obvious aerial target, yet he isn’t great at scoring heading goals. He’s an excellent target man in terms of knocking long passes down, but the vast majority of his goals are scored with his feet. Kim’s not particularly fast, or quick with his feet, which partially explains his struggles with the senior side as he cannot fit in neatly with the quick, technical midfielders behind him.
On paper, and recent club performances, Kim Shin-Wook should be the starter at Brazil, but he almost certainly won’t. As mentioned earlier, Kim has been unable to replicate the scoring success he’s experienced at the club level with the national team, and indeed the team looks much slower and ‘clunkier’ when Kim is in the side. Kim might be utilized if Korea desperately needs a goal late, but otherwise he’ll likely remain rooted on the bench. At the club level, Kim remains an important feature for Ulsan, and continued success could see him move to Europe (but there’s that pesky military thing).
Name: Lee Keun-Ho (이근호)
Senior Caps: 62
Club: Sangju Sangmu/Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)
Position: Second striker/attacking midfielder/wide midfielder
Probably the only player at the World Cup (of all the teams) who is also an active duty soldier. Lee Keun-Ho’s slightly unfortunate circumstances have been well publicized (including by the Tavern’s own Roy Ghim). After helping Ulsan Hyundai win the 2012 edition of the AFC Champions League, Lee Keun-Ho was named joint Asian player of the year (he got the ‘player in Asia’ one). But instead of going on to bigger things in Europe, Lee went down to then-second division army team Sangju Sangmu to begin his mandatory two-year military service. Lee is still there (as mentioned earlier) and will finish his duty for the country a few months after the World Cup. Lee started his career with his hometown club, Incheon United. However, Lee never got a chance there, and after a couple years he moved to Daegu FC. At Daegu he had his breakout season, coming fifth in the scoring table and helping Daegu play some very attractive football. Rumors of a move to Europe surfaced, but ultimately never materialized. Lee instead moved to Japan and Jubilo Iwata where he spent a couple seasons. After that, European rumors surfaced again, but again never turned into anything. Lee stayed in Japan, but moved to Gamba Osaka. Lee’s first year there was solid, and his second was great as he scored 17 goals in all competitions. After that he moved back to Korea, to Ulsan Hyundai where he formed a solid partnership with Kim Shin-Wook. For the national team, Lee Keun-Ho has largely been a squad player, overshadowed by bigger name peers. Lee was unfortunate to miss out on the 2010 World Cup, after he was somewhat controversially left out of the squad despite being a regular during qualification.
Like many players in the squad, the main characteristic of Lee Keun-Ho is his versatility. Originally a wide midfielder, Lee has learned to operate more centrally, both as a withdrawn forward/attacking midfielder, and on his own up top. Lee is a hard worker with a high energy rate, as such he’s known for his ability to run the channels and stretch defenses. On the flip side his finishing is known to be fairly poor, partially due to his time with the army team in the second division. Lee’s decision-making is also faulty at times, as he hesitates or makes the wrong choice.
Lee Keun-Ho will likely start on the bench at the World Cup, but should make an appearance at some point. Hong Myeong-Bo appreciates his work rate and experience, and Lee is usually one of the first players off the bench. On a personal level, this is likely Lee’s last big hurrah before his career starts to wind down. He’ll return to Ulsan Hyundai in the fall, but being almost 30 it’s unlikely he’ll ever get to move to Europe.