[SPORTS REVIEW]If he’s still Ahn, star can revive the K-League

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[SPORTS REVIEW]If he’s still Ahn, star can revive the K-League

The return to the K-League of Ahn Jung-hwan, nicknamed “Lord of the Ring” because he famously kissed his ring after scoring a goal against Italy in the 2002 World Cup, is truly great.
Earlier this month, Ahn donned the blue-collared jersey of the Samsung Suwon Bluewings and put on a smile for pictures with his new boss, Cha Bum-keun, who rescued Ahn from the jobless list. The handsome soccer player had been unemployed for six months. “I wanted to go to a team that can win the K-League,” Ahn said, according to a team release, as his reason for joining the Bluewings.
That may be the case, but Ahn also desperately needed some work. Out of the game for several months as he unsuccessfully tried to ink a deal with a club based in Europe, his game-shape deteriorated. In addition, he was shown the cold shoulder by Pim Verbeek, skipper of the national team, who made it clear that he could not offer a player who was not in game shape a spot on the team.
At 31, Ahn had to make a choice quickly. At the height of his career, Ahn was one of the first South Korean players to succeed in playing abroad. He had marketing power, too. His TV commercials for a cosmetic maker were eagerly awaited by his many female fans.
But Ahn’s efforts to take a prominent role with a foreign soccer club have all failed over the years, except for when he played in Japan. Ahn’s playing career with AC Perugia of the Italian Serie A league, FC Metz of the French League and MSV Duisburg of the German Bundesliga can be summed up by saying he was good enough to make the teams, but not good enough to get much playing time. The past months have shown that nobody wanted to take a chance on a player who has failed to prove he can score in the premier leagues of the soccer world. Had he been younger, someone might have been willing to take a shot.
So Ahn opted to revive his career in the domestic league with the club that won the K-League in 2004 and 2005 and is looking to get back on top. He only signed a one year contract, which shows he has not completely given up playing in Europe. I still believe Ahn has the ability to score goals on a consistent basis despite his age, but I have doubts about whether Ahn can do it in a year’s time.
Ahn spent some years abroad. Although he never managed to awe the fans there, the experience itself should help him to get back on track.
At last year’s World Cup, Ahn showed that at least among the South Koreans he still had skills that set him apart ― as he scored the winning goal against Togo. Ahn wants a big contract in Europe and he wants to prove that he is not only a notch better than others here, but is good enough to leave his mark in Europe.
It does not have to be that way. There are many players who returned to their home countries leagues after failing to adjust abroad, and then succeeded in reviving not only their career but also the league.
Ahn has that sort of power. Let’s hope that his return befits that of a king and that he stays.

by Brain Lee africanu@joongang.co.kr

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