This post actually came about as I was reading and commenting on some of the comments in the recent “Fallen Stars: Lee Chun-Soo” post. A minor discussion was building about how Koreans are overhyped by the media and fans, and how players start to think they’re better than they really are. Lee Chun-Soo was compared to Park Chu-Young, and I started thinking about whether they are similar in their career fates.
While Lee Chun-Soo is undoubtedly a failure, particularly in his European quest (2 years, 25 appearances, 0 goals), things seem much more questionable for Park. I suppose Cha Bum-Keun would have to be considered the gold standard for Koreans in Europe. An 11 year career in Germany, 300+ appearances, 98 goals, plus a couple UEFA Cup medals and a German Cup medal. Alternatively we could hold Park Ji-Sung as the standard. 200+ appearances in Holland and England along with 32 goals are solid numbers for a midfielder, but it’s his trophy haul that sets him apart from the rest. 2 Eredevise titles, a Dutch cup, 4 Premier League titles, 3 league cup medals, and a Champions League medal (granted Park wasn’t “the man” for many of those medals, but he few would argue that he didn’t earned them).
And somewhere between those players, Lee Chun-Soo at one end and Park Ji-Sung/Cha Bum-Keun at the other, is Park Chu-Young. Park developed professionally at FC Seoul. Before that he spent time Cheonggu High School and Korea University *side note, similar to American athletes, most players play through a high school and then college team before going pro, it’s more recently that pro teams have set up serious youth teams of their own, but even then many are still school teams that are associated with the club* Park did well at Seoul, but even there his career was a bit stop-start with injuries and the occasional drop in form slowing his otherwise meteoric rise.
When Park finally went to Europe in 2008, he was 23, and coming off decent showings at the 2008 Olympics. The lovely tax haven of Monaco was his destination. 2008-09 was a decent debut season for Park, when he made 35 appearances and notched 5 goals along with 6 assists. 2009-10 was slightly better. Park made 33 appearances and scored 9 goals (plus 3 assists). He also earned the only medal of his time in Europe that year. A runner up medal in the French Cup. Monaco lost that final in extra time to PSG (before the club was purchased by wealthy Mid East owners). Park started the match and played all 120 minutes. PSG wasn’t the force they are now, but there were still some solid players there such as Claude Makelele, former Monaco hero Ludovic Giuly, and future France number 1 Gregory Coupet. Then came 2010-11 where Park had his best, by most people’s standards, season. 35 appearances and 12 goals with Monaco, although the club was relegated at the end of the season. Those numbers coupled with a strong year with South Korea earned Park a move from the then-Ligue 2 club.
Initially it looked like Park would head to Lille. Not a giant club, but a club that actually had won the league the year Monaco was relegated. Certainly a step up for Park. But as we all know, Arsenal showed their interest and Park flew the coop to London. For the sake of completeness let’s go back over the Arsenal fiasco. Park arrived on London and everything seemed great. Wenger seemed quite happy to have a solid and capable striker to back up Robin Van Persie, Park was handed the number 9 shirt. Perhaps Park should have done a quick internet search on “Arsenal” and “number 9 shirt” as there are several articles (both pre- and post-Park) that ponder the idea of whether Arsenal’s 9 shirt is cursed. With every player who has worn it since Wenger became Arsenal manager failing to be successful at the Emirates, from Nicolas Anelka to Davor Suker to Eduardo to our very own Park Chu-Young. But, this is a bit off topic, so back to business.
The year at Arsenal proved terrible. Park made his his appearance in the League Cup against Shrewsbury. Then came his only good showing for Arsenal, against Bolton in the next round of the Cup. Everything was looking good, but then came a poor showing against Marseille in the Champions League. Another League Cup appearance came, against Manchester City, but Arsenal went out there. Then there was (virtually) nothing. Two cameo appearances came, one in the league against Manchester United, where Korean fans got what they finally wanted, both Parks on the same pitch at the same time (granted both were shadows of their former selves, but . . . ). Another Champions League cameo would come as well, against Milan. And that was all she wrote. In all, 6 appearances, one goal. Terrible.
Park moved on loan to Celta Vigo the following season. Vigo, a team with a proud past up in the Spanish northwest region of Galicia, had just achieved promotion from the Segunda the year before. Avoiding relegation was the goal, and Vigo wanted experienced hands to help them stay there. Park seemed a good signing, despite his high wages compared to the rest of the squad, and like with Arsenal things seemed to start bright. In his second appearance, against Getafe, Park scored the winning goal for Vigo. Cue wild scenes and the possibility of cult hero status. But from there, Park faded with the light from Iago Aspas blocking him out. Park had one more chance at the end, when Aspas received a lengthy ban following a red card. But by then, Park had faded so badly that he could not grab that chance with Mario Bermejo outplaying him. The loan ended, and Park now out of favor with the club, fans, and local media, headed back to London.
It was clear from early on in his return, that Arsenal had no thoughts of Park possibly reclaiming a spot with the first team. Lukas Podolski had been brought in during the summer, and Arsenal stripped Park of the number 9 shirt, and handed him the number 30. A squad number usually reserved from youth team players. Talks of a move back to France emerged, but nothing came from them. Nowadays there is talk of a loan move to Wigan in the Championship. Nothing has happened yet. Park was listed in Arsenal’s Premier League squad, but not for their Champions League squad. A clear sign of where he stood. In early games when Oliver Giroud is not starting, Wenger has opted for the likes of Nicklaus Bendtner and young players such as Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom.
Which brings us back to the original question: Can Park Chu-Young be considered a European success?
For me, because of the way things have gone the past two years and the expectations of him, the answer is he is not a success. Yes, he did well at Monaco, but at the time Monaco was a relatively small team. They had fallen far from the late 90’s and early 2000’s when they were challenging at the top of the Ligue 1 and the Champions League. Even Park’s goal tallies isn’t super impressive. 26 in 103 matches. 1 in every 4 appearances. Okay, but not the stuff of legend. If Monaco was it, and that was his European career, I would say he was pretty good in Europe. But now with the year at Arsenal and year at Celta Vigo, it’s just not. He doesn’t have the statistical numbers like Cha Bum-Keun does nor the silverware that Park Ji-Sung does. And more importantly, he doesn’t have that non-stats thing, that lasting thought that he was important. That it mattered that he was at that club. Cha and Park Ji-Sung do have that at Frankfurt/Leverkusen and United respectively.
The good news for Park Chu-Young is that, if things go right for him this season, he may still have another 2-4 years left in Europe. 2-4 years that could change things. But right now, I think to sum up Park’s European career in a sentence is: “started well, but ultimately couldn’t cut it.”
What do you think? Is Park a success or flop in Europe? Or is it too early to tell? Vote in the poll.