Korean players are hoping to cash in on Cup exposureLEIPZIG, Germany ― Every four years, soccer players who dream of playing in more prestigious international leagues get a golden opportunity to showcase their skills on the biggest stage in the world.
Scouts from some of the leading professional clubs, including England’s Manchester United, Spain’s Real Madrid and Germany’s Bayern Munich, are at the World Cup, all hoping to uncover players who can make an immediate impact.
Sports agents representing up-and-comers are also busy trying to market their clients, hoping to get the most for their players. To these agents, it’s not which country wins, but which players score goals and stand out above the rest.
Korean players benefited four years ago, thanks to their improbable run to the semifinals on home soil.
Midfielder Lee Eul-yong became the first national team member to play for a European club, joining Turkey’s Trabzonspor on a transfer fee of $1.6 million soon after the World Cup. Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo followed the then-national team coach Guus Hiddink to the Netherlands’ PSV Eindhoven. Park received $1 million in transfer fees from Japan’s Kyoto Purple Sanga and Lee got $2 million for moving from Korea’s Anyang Cheetahs, now FC Seoul. Both players are now in the English Premier League: Park with Manchester United and Lee playing for Tottenham Hotspur.
Song Chong-gug, who joined Busan Ipark in the K-League in 2001 for a 200 million won ($208,000) signing bonus, was transferred to the Dutch league’s Feyenoord on a $2.6 million transfer, with a salary of $600,000. Several other players, such as forwards Ahn Jung-hwan and Seol Ki-hyeon and Lee Chun-soo, have played for European clubs since the end of the 2002 World Cup.
But Park, widely considered the best Korean soccer player since Cha Bum-kun, a former most valuable player of the Bundesliga in Germany, is the biggest star to come out of the previous World Cup. While the likes of Song and midfielder Kim Nam-il have returned to Korea, Park’s stock has risen incrementally over the last couple of years.
As Korea’s first Premier Leaguer, he received 6 million euros (approximately $7.3 million) in a transfer fee and commands 2 million pounds, or $3.7 million, in annual salary.
So who has a shot to become the “Next Park Ji-sung” at this year’s World Cup? The team features several players in their early 20s, and some will get a long look at the tournament.
After the World Cup, midfielder Lee Ho, 21, could join Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg. Officials from his current K-League squad, Ulsan Hyundai FC, have said the two sides are working out final details of the transfer. Lee had a forgettable World Cup debut against Togo, but had a much stronger game against France before leaving the match with a mild concussion, sustained in a midfield collision with Patrick Vieira in the second half.
The 24-year-old defender Kim Dong-jin is also pushing for a chance to play for St. Petersburg. After missing the game against Togo because of an ejection in the team’s last regional qualification match, Kim returned to the pitch against France, and was an active participant in the offensive.
Park Chu-young remains the prime candidate to play overseas in the near future. He was voted Young Player of the Year by the Asian Football Confederation in 2004. In 2005, at the Qatar Eight-Team Tournament, he scored nine goals in four games to lead Korea to the title.
He joined FC Seoul in K-League last year and immediately became a major fan attraction. Park, who turns 21 next month, won the Rookie of the Year honors while finishing second in the goal scoring race.
However, Park hasn’t had a chance to display his skills: Buried in the forward depth chart behind more established players, Park has yet to play in this World Cup.
by Choi Won-chang, Yoo Jee-ho