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Archive for March, 2010

Star Performance – Park Ji-sung

Posted by Seamus Walsh on March 12, 2010

Well, what can I say about Park Ji-sung’s performance on Wednesday night for Manchester United against AC Milan in the Champions League? For that matter, what more can be said about United that they haven’t already said with their performance? Park was one of the best, most influential players on the pitch, perhaps even the best. Rooney will undoubtedly steal the headlines with his superb two goals, taking his tally up to thirty for this season. Beckham may grab a few with his long anticipated return to Old Trafford. But this was an inspiring team performance by united.

Rooney scores his 30th of the season

At the back, Ferdinand and Vidic were immense and impassable, and they showed why United miss them so much when one or both is out injured. For United’s sake, they need them both now to stay fit for the rest of the season. In midfield, Fletcher was brilliant, and seemed to make no mistakes whatsoever. Scholes was his usual industrious self. Valencia showed once again why he was the perfect player to bring in once Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid – another astute signing by Ferguson. Nani had a sloppy first half, but absolutely terrorised Milan in the second half with his pace and skill.

But for me it was the tactical decision by Ferguson to play Park centrally just behind and supporting Rooney that allowed United to play such a fantastic game, with flowing attacking football and an airtight defence.

The Manchester United lineup for the match was:

Van Der Sar

Neville          Ferdinand          Vidic          Evra

Scholes          Fletcher

Valencia                    Park                            Nani

Rooney

This isn’t the first time Ferguson’s used Park in the centre this season, but it is the first time he’s done so and also played both Nani and Valencia on the wings at the same time. I think we can be expecting this lineup a bit more often in future. Having Park in a central position allowed Fletcher and Scholes to play slightly deeper, to pick up any attacking runs from the Milan midfield, and most importantly, it gave them time and space to play accurate, creative passes from deep to the more attacking players.

Park’s performance was key for United against Milan

Park is probably not quite as quick as Nani and Valencia, and less likely to dribble round the opposition full backs, so this formation also gave United added width in attack, and more pace than Milan could handle. Park’s energy levels meant that the Milan defense just couldn’t track his runs, which were clever, and either meant he received the ball in a good attacking position or created space for Rooney to.

When United didn’t have the ball, Park was man marking Andrea Pirlo, the player who pulls all the strings for Milan in midfield from a deep-lying position. With Park never more than a metre away from him when Milan had the ball, Pirlo was essentially useless, unable to find the time or space to direct Milan’s attacking play, making the job much easier for United’s defense. Also, with the creative playmaker so tightly watched, Nani and Valencia don’t have to overcommit themselves in defense, meaning they can break quicker when United break.

Now, I couldn’t analyse Park’s performance in this match without discussing his excellent goal. After Rooney had scored two already, essentially killing off any Italian hopes of a comeback, Park produced a slick finish for United’s third.

As this clip shows, United started the move with Park in a defensive position, which allowed Nani to react to quicker to go on the break. Then, with Park playing in the middle of Nani and Valencia, he was able to receive the ball from Nani on one wing and spread it to Valencia on the other, before receiving it once again from Scholes in the area. His first touch was perfect, and it allowed him to beat the defender and head for goal. He stumbled, but recovered well to pull off a fine finish low to the keeper’s right. A well taken goal, and very well deserved.

Here we see Park’s direct contribution to United’s fourth of the match, scored by Darren Fletcher, as he wins the ball back with a clever turn with United in an attacking position. Young Rafael provided the deep cross, and Fletcher was making the run to the back post to head in. It’s important to bear in mind that this was after United were 3-0 up, and they were still looking to attack, with running across to recover the lost ball. There’s really no need for him to do so in that position, there’s no real threat for Milan in a position like that, but I think it shows how he’s willing to go above and beyond what is simply necessary for the good of the team.

Park slots his finish past the goalkeeper

Park celebrates his goal

An excellent performance by Manchester United, who go on to the next round, and a wonderful performance by Park Ji-sung, crowned with a goal in the champions League. I’ll finish with the words of one Manchester United fan regarding Park: “He made the two victories possible really, he’s a great player to have form a tactical point of view,” and those of manager Sir Alex Ferguson: “Ji-Sung Park, in particular, showed sacrifice, intelligence and discipline and we needed that against Andrea Pirlo.”

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Posted in European football, Highlights, Manchester United, Match Review, Park Ji-sung, Star Performance | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What do Korean players need to succeed in Europe?

Posted by Seamus Walsh on March 8, 2010

This is obviously a pressing issue for Korean football, and one which it looks like they’re getting closer to solving, with a number of players now having played in Europe. The first thing to note is that Korea has as much chance as any other country of producing top quality players. The reasons there have been so few are fairly obvious:

  • The domestic league has only been running for less than thirty years. The leagues in England and Italy are over a century old, with those in France, Spain and other countries approaching that.
  • The league only has 15 teams. Less teams means less players. Less players means less top quality players.
  • Education Fever. It’s well documented how important education is to building a future for kids in Korea. I worry that with so much pressure on them to study every hour of the day and night, less kids are getting a chance to play sport, or to follow their passion if the opportunity arises.

Empty seats for the K-League’s biggest team, FC Seoul

These are big issues, and solving them is beyond the scope of this blog, although I would like to quickly stress that with time the situation will inevitably improve, and I don’t think it will take a century before Korea is also producing players of the quality of those produced by the top footballing nations in Europe and South America. Having quite a small population inevitably means there will be less great players than there are coming from somewhere like Brazil, but the important thing is to raise the overall quality of all Korean players. In my view, a youth system like that in France would be best suited to the South Korean football climate. This would involve talented young players attending a footballing institute which also functions as a school, meaning they would receive both standard and footballing education, while also allowing them to be attached to the academy of a professional club. I’ll deal with this issue in more detail in a later post, however.

As for Korean players in Europe, one stands above all the rest in the contemporary game: Park Ji-sung. He’s achieved phenomenal success, perhaps most notably being the first Asian player to win the Premier League, to play in the Champions League final, and to win a Champions League winners medal, and the first (and only) Asian player to play in four Champions League semi-finals.

Park Ji-sung, Korea’s leading light in Europe

So what’s been the secret to his success? Well, the first reason was Guus Hiddink, his coach for the national team and then PSV Eindhoven. Hiddink obviously saw the potential Park had, and luckily he was in a position to offer him the opportunity to come to Europe. Unfortunately, not many Korean players have that sort of relationship with successful European coaches who can ensure they make it to Europe.

After moving, however, I think Park simply played his natural game, and let his talent show through. He works very hard in every aspect of his game, and that’s something you can really see in his performances – he never stops running, never gives up, and that’s always been the case with him. Two prime examples are the winning goal he scored against Portugal aged only 21 in the 2002 World Cup, and the equalizer against France late on in their group encounter in the 2006 World Cup.

This is an attitude that players such as Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong and Park Chu-young, who have recently moved to Europe, need to have if they are to really succeed. They need to show dedication, to play to their best under any circumstances, and to understand that there is always more they can do – never be satisfied with what you’ve already achieved. It’s not simply enough to get to Europe, you need to perform once you’re there as well.

Park Chu-young scores for Monaco

On top of that I think it’s sensible to note the differences in the style of football between Europe and Asia, and also the standard level. Park Chu-young probably has the easiest transition in terms of the style of football in France, because they encourage a quick passing game, much like he will be used to playing in Korea. What he will have to do is keep working on his pace and power, which are superior in the French game to the Korean one. For Ki Sung-yeung and Lee Chung-yong, however, their period of adaption will inevitably be longer and more difficult. The British game is a lot more physical, a lot tougher than the style of football played just about everywhere else in the world. Of course there are smaller, skillful players, but even they have to get used to the harder tackles.

In this way, Park has adapted himself brilliantly. If you compare photos of him from the 2002 World Cup, or when he first moved to PSV with photos of him now, he had a much slighter frame than he currently does, and he’s clearly put a lot of effort in to improving his power and strength, as well as speed and stamina and his all round game.

Park in the 2002 World Cup

Park has improved his physical presence since moving to Europe

Lee’s pace will be an asset in the Premier League, but he will have to overcome the fact that he will be put under a lot more physical pressure in England than he’s used to, and also the fact that on average players in the Premier League will be faster than in the K-League. In my opinion, Ki will have the toughest time of all. He’s a central midfielder in a very physical, tough league. In fact, his natural technical ability – which is excellent – may actually make him more of a target for tough tackles in Scotland. Although he’s quite tall, he’s still young and has yet to completely fill out, I would say. He’ll definitely get physically stronger playing in Scotland, and the higher level of competition should mean his game improves overall as well.

There was interest in him from Manchester United a while back, although in the end nothing came of it, which I think is probably for the best, as he wasn’t ready at that time. I think he needs at least a couple of seasons playing in Scotland to try and adapt to the lifestyle, and the style of football, as well as to play more, improve his game and get stronger. This will take at least two or three seasons, and I don’t think it would be a good idea for him to move to the Premiership before then. But don’t get me wrong, he absolutely has the talent, and I think he can potentially exceed even what’s been achieved by Park. Time will tell, but for now he knows what needs to be done.

Posted in European football, Ki Sung-yeung, Manchester United, Park Ji-sung, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Star Performance – Lee Chung-yong

Posted by Seamus Walsh on March 8, 2010

This is the first in a series of posts which will review the outstanding performance of one Korean player for their club. This week it’s Lee Chung-yong for his performance for Bolton Wanderers against West Ham on Saturday (March 6). Match highlights:

Bolton won 2-1, with Lee setting up the first goal with a superb pinpoint cross for Kevin Davies to head in. It seems that Lee has really added another dimension to Bolton’s play since he joined in August. When Gary Megson first signed Lee (Megson has since been replaced by Owen Coyle), he stated “It is going to be a big challenge for him because he is coming to a new country and a new culture… It will take time for him to settle but we will be making sure that he is fully supported as he makes that transition.” Well, the Premier is certainly a challenge, as anyone will admit, but Lee seems to coping fantastically well. I have to say, I’m quite surprised at how well he’s done. Contrary to Megson’s belief, it doesn’t seem to have taken him long at all to settle in a footballing sense, as he’s already scored five goals and is playing as well as anyone in the Bolton team.

Lee Chung-yong signing for Bolton

My view is that if this is how he starts, he can surely only get better. In fact, one Bolton fan on this BBC comment board remarked that he believed Lee “will go to a big club unfortunatly but I want players like him to do well, watch out for him in the World Cup.” I think it might be slightly premature to say he’ll be off to a bigger club, because there’s still the chance that homesickness, culture shock and so on will hit him later on, and he may have a bit of a dip in form which can be tough on any young player. But one thing’s for sure, his performances so far this season have absolutely proved that he has the talent and the potential to go very far.

In terms of what he brings to Bolton, they’ve lacked pace and width in attack this season, playing generally quite unattractive and ‘boring’ football. With Lee and new loan signing Jack Wilshire playing on the wings, Bolton now have an alternative plan of attack, which is much better suited to the swift passing game Coyle likes to use. As another fan commented here, “Lee and Wilshere are pure class, they just make things happen for us.” No longer do Bolton rely on hitting the ball up to Davies as early as possible, they now try and pass it through the midfield, where the tireless running of Muamba and Davies create space out wide for Lee especially to provide forward momentum.

Lee Chung-yong celebrates Kevin Davies' goal against West Ham which he set up

Lee celebrating Davies' goal which he set up

On Saturday this was particularly evident, with Lee providing the cross for the first goal and Wilshire scoring the second. Lee found himself in space out wide on the right plenty of times. His dribbling was excellent, attacking the West Ham defense at pace and forcing them to turn around. In doing so, he also drew a number of fouls, winning free kicks for his team in good positions. He also delivered a number of good crosses, and in reality Bolton probably should have scored a couple more. Lee himself had a good shot that just went wide of the post.

I hope Bolton continue this style of play, it seems to suit them well, and Lee especially. If he continues to play like this he should get a few more goals and assists this season. Most important of all, it bodes well for South Korea’s World Cup ambitions. All of the teams in their group have shown in recent months that they can be vulnerable against teams who pass well and attack with pace down the wings, looking to get behind the defense. Both Park Ji-sung and Lee are great at this style of wing play, and Ki Sung-yeung in the centre will provide plenty of great passes for them to run onto and attack with. Things are looking up for Lee Chung-yong and for South Korean football!

Posted in Highlights, Lee Chung-yong, Star Performance | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »