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What can Arsenal expect from Park Chu-young?

Posted by Seamus Walsh on September 2, 2011

For him to be known as Park Ju-young from now on, for a start. Romanisation of Korean is confusing and overall not very good. His name hasn’t changed, just the way he writes it in Roman letters. The Korean spelling remains 박주영, but as the player himself has requested to be known as Park Ju-young then that’s how he will be known on this blog, too.

It seems to me that most Arsenal fans are wishing Park well whilst not expecting too much from him. This will probably suit him. There’s going to be much more pressure on, say, Mikel Arteta or Per Mertesacker, than there will be on Park to come in and perform from the off. (Adding hyperlinks not working, sorry. Here are the links that should be in this section: http://arseblog.com/2011/08/three-in-more-to-come/ http://gunnerblog.com/2011/09/01/transfer-frenzy-5-signings-in-2-days/ http://adamsummerton.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/dont-blame-park-chu-young/

The best way to measure what Park can bring to Arsenal is to first look at what their objectives are. First and foremost they need to finish in the top four in the league. The teams ahead of them have arguably strengthened, but Arsenal should be more concerned with the teams who finished last season just below them this time round in order to maintain their top four status. Tottenham don’t have anough, in my opinion, to oust the Gunners. In some people’s minds Liverpool are top four material, perhaps even title challengers. You’ll find none of that sort of talk here, though. I predict a 5th place finish for Liverpool, owing to the signings Arsenal have brought in.

So of those signings, what does Park himself bring? Experience, talent, commitment in abundance – we’re nott alking about the sort of player who would stand for implosion at the end of last season. He’s a tough guy mentally and has had problems and made mistakes in the past that he’s very clearly learned from. He’s the captain of his national side for a reason. Korean culture places a great emphasis on age and hierarchy. At 30, Park Ji-sung was the older brother of the team – the most experienced and succesful player not just of his generation, not just that the country had ever produced but of all players ever to come out of the largest and most populous continent on earth. Upon his retirement, the fact that this role was passed to Park Ju-young is very telling. Park Ju-young was not immature or inexperienced before he became captain, but I get the sense that he will now be demanding even more from himself now. He is already becoming the leader and inspiration for a very talented group of young Korean players (Lee Chung-yong, Ki Sung-yong, Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-Cheol, Nam Tae-hee, Ji Dong-won, Jung Sung-ryong, Lee Seung-ryeol etc etc). He has always tried to set an example with his performances and his behaviour, and now is clearly becoming more vocal and driven.

This should be looking good for Arsenal fans. That’s the sort of player they need, and the situation at Arsenal is in that respect similar to the current South Korean national setup. South Korea is a fairly small country with a fairly small population, and yet one that is mad about football. They have always produced good technical players with the right attitude, who work hard and play attractive, passing, attacking football. They are ambitious but have sometimes found it hard to match results to their ambition, competing against the comparative financial muscle of the Japanese domestic game and the vastly larger populations of their neighbouring countries. Despite that, however, the current group of South Korean elite in the roughly 18-23 years old age range is arguably the best ever. Unfortunately, the same could also be said of Japan. So much of this corresponds loosely to Arsenal’s current situation, and the fact that Park has been involved with this on a national level and has maintained high performances and become a leader bodes well.

Some have criticised his goalscoring record. Personally I wouldn’t say it’s worthy of criticism, but neither is it spectacular. His last season with Monaco was very good, despite the fact that the team as a whole was abismal, getting relegated. Park scored a third of Monaco’s goals last season, notching 12 in 33 league games for a relegated club. RVP scored a quarter of Arsenal’s league goals last season.

Undoubtedly RVP will be relied upon again to provide the main goalscoring threat this season, but Park provides an interesting addition. Let’s say they were to play in the same team. RVP would obviously be leading the line, giving Park a bit more freedom to use his pace and deceptive movement off the ball around the edge of the area, bringing in other players, moving the defence around and allowing van Persie to do his thing. It’s safe to assume that he’ll grab a few goals himself in the process. That would mean an essentially 4-4-2 formation (although perhaps more like a 4-4-1-1), most likely with Gervinho on the left of the midfield and Walcott on the right. Arteta is capable of providing exactly the sort of subtle, clever passes that Park thrives on from the middle of the pitch. I can’t see Wenger deploying this sort of formation if they were to come up against the likes of Barcelona again, though, meaning Park would probably drop to the bench.

He is also capable of playing anywhere across a front 3, of which the same can be said of Gervinho and arguably Walcott, so Wenger has options, including Chamack, who is a more traditional centre forward.

As to how he will fit into the squad, he’s a bright personality, positive, highly intelliegent in a traditional and footballing sense, very dedicated to his football and deeply religious. He’s also obviously spent a while in France, which makes him perfectly suited to this Arsenal squad considering its makeup and the background of the players – and manager.

All in all, a solid signing. Expect a couple of missed sitters, a decent haul of goals (but not enough to outdo RVP) and an overall good contribution to the team. And excellent value at that price, even if he does have to do military service after the Olympics.*

 

*Korean players are excused form military service if they medal at the London Olympics. Park is a fairly safe bet as an overage player, and Korea do have a good crop of players in th right age range at the moment.

Posted in Arsenal, European football, Park Chu-young | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

South Korea – Ecuador: Star Performance – Ki Sung-yeung

Posted by Seamus Walsh on May 23, 2010

I know I’m a bit late, but I’ve been busy this whole week. Anyways, last Sunday – 16 May – I was in Seoul to watch South Korea beat Ecuador 2-0. It was a very satisfying match, and the result even more so. Although Ecuador only fielded their domestic players – understandable considering they failed to qualify for the World Cup and so now need to find ways of improving for the next qualifying campaign – they were a tough side, with plenty of pace and power. South Korea played well and created plenty of chances.

Match highlights:

Although none of the European based players played the entire match, their contribution was particularly impressive.

The starting lineup for the match was:

Jung Sung-ryong

Oh Beom-seok          Cho Yong-hyung          Kwak Tae-hwi          Kim Dong-jin

Kim Jae-sung          Ki Sung-yueng          Shin Hyung-min          Park Ji-sung

Lee Dong-gook          Yeom Ki-Hun

Substitutions made:

Lee Chung-yong for Cho Yong-hyung (46)

Cha Du-ri for Park Ji-sung (46)

Hwang Jae-won for Oh Beom-seok (46)

Lee Seung-yeoul for Lee Dong-gook (66)

Koo Ja-cheol for Ki Sung-yeung (73)

Kim Bo-kyung for Yeom Ki-hun (81)

Just to clear it up a bit then, this was the lineup at the start of the second half:

Jung Sung-ryong

Cha Du-ri          Hwang-Jae-won          Kwak Tae-hwi          Kim Dong-jin

Kim Jae-sung          Ki Sung-yueng          Shin Hyung-min          Lee Chung-yong

Lee Dong-gook          Yeom Ki-Hun

The other substitutions were all straight swaps.

As the title of the post shows, Ki Sung-yueng in the centre of the midfield was absolutely dominant, but before I get on to his performance, let me run through a few of the other noticeable contributions.

The outstanding South Korean fans

Jung Sung-ryong in goal was excellent, I don’t think he made a mistake all game. For a goalkeeper he’s still young at 25, and I don’t expect him to start in the World Cup. However, it is very reassuring for coach Huh Jung-moo to have an understudy to Lee Woon-jae that he can trust and he knows is capable of top performances.

Kim Dong-jin played the whole game instead of Lee Young-pyo. As I’ve said before, I expect them both to play parts in the World Cup campaign, but I take this as an indicator that Kim is now the more likely to start. Following the friendly against the Ivory Coast I commented that I would have liked to have seen Kim in action as Lee played the whole of that match. Well, now that i’ve had my wish answered, I can safely say that Kim was one of the best players on the pitch. He rarely gave the ball away and provided good support to Park Ji-sung and then Lee Chung-yong, allowing them to go forward and create chances in attack. furthermore, once park went off at the start of the second half, Kim was handed the captain’s armband. A steady performance, and one I think that puts him into pole position for the starting place at left back for the world Cup.

I could say almost exactly the same about Oh Beom-seok at right back. With the inexperienced Kim Jae-sung ahead of him, he used his experience to control the right hand side of the pitch. He was always available when Kim Jae-sung got into trouble, and he provided a number of good crosses. A safe pair of hands, and I think this makes him likely to play a large part in the World Cup. I think he will almost certainly start the game against Greece, and probably will against Nigeria. Against Argentina, however, the pace of Angel Di Maria on the left might lead Huh to opt for Cha Du-ri instead.

Cha came on at the start of the second half and did what he does best – getting forward at pace and worrying the defence. He didn’t control the wide channel like Oh did, but a couple of good important tackles in defence and numerous surging runs forward showed why he is still in contention for a starting place. Technically I don’t think he’s quite as good as Oh, but he’s farm more dynamic, and offers more of a threat in attack. We shall have to wait and see how Huh uses these two when the World Cup finally begins, but one other thing to take into consideration is that Lee Chung-yong will be starting on the right, and he’s a potent attacking force on his own. Because of this Huh might go for the safe option of Oh rather than Cha, saving the latter for later on in matches when the opposition defence is getting tired.

Speaking of Lee Chung-yong he pushed Ki Sung-yeung very close indeed for the Star Performance tag. The only thing going against him was that he only played half the match, although this is because he’s played a long hard season with Bolton, whereas Ki hasn’t been playing much lately. Lee is going to be absolutely crucial for Korea in this World Cup. His pace, trickery and all-round attacking threat were all on display in this match, and the Ecuadorians were visibly frightened of him when he got the ball, eventually resorting to trying to bring him down by any means. He scored late on in the match, picking the ball up wide on the right, dribbling inside, exchanging passes and eventually finished well. This summed up his match.

Lee Chung-yong

Lastly, Lee Dong-gook had an excellent game up front, I would have expected him to partner Park Chu-young in the World Cup, although Park missed this game due to injury. It doesn’t seem to be too serious however, as I watched him warming up with the other players before kick off, and his movement seemed to be fine. Lee, on the other hand, was injured during the match, and it looks like he may miss some or all of the World Cup now. If he does, it will be a major blow to the squad, although Lee Keun-ho has impressed me over the last year or so. The three centre backs who played all had very good games on the whole. None of them are certainties to start the World Cup, but this isn’t a criticism necessarily, more a comment that finally the central defenders seem to be raising their performance levels. There’s a lot of competition for those two spots in the starting lineup now, which is a good thing. In central midfield also, Shin Hyung-min, a youngster at only 23, was outstanding in the holding role. He formed an outstanding partnership with Ki Sung-yeung, playing in front of the defence, breaking up Ecuador’s attacks and playing accurate, simple passes. He has now possibly put himself in contention for the starting places in the World Cup. If I were Huh Jung-moo, I’d use him in the final two friendlies before South Africa to test whether this was a one-off performance or whether he looks like he can maintain this level. If he can, the success and balance of his partnership with Ki should mean he starts in south Africa.

Lee Dong-gook: Rejuvenated

Now, as for Ki himself, I was very curious to see how he performed after he seems to have been overlooked somewhat at Celtic since Neil Lennon was named as manager. Well, if anything it seems to have helped him. He looked fresh and determined to show what he can do. I watched closely every time he got the ball and made a mental not of every time he made a mistake. The result: Once. For the whole match, he only made one mistake – a slightly overhit pass to Lee Chung-yong which went out for a throw. Apart from that he won every tackle, every header, and didn’t give the ball away a single time. He showed a superb range of passing, coming deep to play simple passes to keep the game flowing, playing long balls forwards for the pacy front four to run on to, and through balls that cut through the Ecuador defence.

His positioning was faultless – always in the right place at the right time in defence, and when South Korea had the ball Ki was always in a position to receive a pass. When he did, he showed good control, going on a few excellent runs – he was never tackled, and he was also the creative force driving the Koreans on.

Tactically speaking, the front four – the two wingers and two strikers – showed why Korea must not be written off in the World Cup. They moved with pace, made great runs to avoid their markers, and switched positions constantly, making it even more difficult for the Ecuador defence. With four players ahead of him doing this, Ki had no shortage of passing options, and his accuracy and vision meant that the chances to score kept on coming for South Korea. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the most important player for this side in the World Cup. He may not be making the headlines or scoring the most goals, but his overall contribution to the team goes beyond what any other player offers. Not to mention the fact that the attackers would not be as effective without him either.

South Korean celebrations

A good performance, and it looks like lots of players are coming good at the right time. The K-League has a much shorter season than most leagues in Europe or South America, and so it could definitely be in Korea’s favour that some of their players based in Korea are playing so well. the fitness and freshness of players could be one of the key factors in this World Cup, with a number of teams having key players who have played maybe fifty games this season already. Huh now needs to find the right balance in his final squad and team selections.

Posted in Highlights, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong, Match Review, Star Performance, World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 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 »