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Korean stars have mixed seasons

With Park Ji-sung grabbing recent headlines with a string of impressive, and at times immense, performances for Manchester United, there haven’t been many column inches available for the remaining members of Korea’s foreign legion who have had mixed seasons.

Park won a fourth English Premier League medal and is preparing for the May 28 UEFA Champions League final. There are few players either from Asia, or anywhere else for that matter, who can match that.

Ki Sung-yueng has just lost out on his chance for a Scottish championship with Celtic. The Glasgow giant finished second behind bitter city rivals Rangers. Despite the disappointment, the 22-year-old has just finished his first full season with the club and has become a regular starter after struggling a little when he first joined in January 2010, midway through the season.

The example of Ki could be a good one for Koo Ja-cheol to follow. Koo has been having a harder time in Germany. The former Jeju United midfielder joined 2009 champion VfL Wolfsburg in January but has found playing time hard to come by as the club has been fighting it out near the bottom of the league ever since he arrived. Only three wins from the last four games prevented Wolfsburg from dropping to the second tier.

It is not much to get concerned about. Lots of Korean and other Asian players have gone to Europe and not become stars overnight.

Winter transfers are not ideal. In the middle of the season, players are thrown into things immediately. In the summer, there is time to get to know country, city, culture, club, coach and colleagues. The new boys get a chance to partake in a full program of preseason training, a perfect chance to adjust. The weather is nicer too!

A move in January means that the games are coming thick and fast, people have less time to deal with new recruits and make them feel at home. It is a case of sink or swim. It can be the perfect way, if it goes well but it is tough. Koo’s time to shine will come next season.

Son Heung-min is even younger than Koo, almost four years his junior. The 18-year-old really does have time on his side at Hamburg. It has been a breakthrough season for the forward. He has made eight starts by the North Sea and has made real impact. Next season could be a big one for him.

Lee Chung-yong is coming to the end of his second season with Bolton Wanderers. It has been a low-key few weeks for both club and player. Bolton has been safely mired in the middle of the standings for some time, with no hope of challenging for the top spots and not in any danger of relegation to the second tier.

Lee may not mind. The youngster has hardly stopped playing since he arrived in England in the summer of 2009. After the World Cup last June and the Asian Cup in January as well as all the English action, this summer will be a time of welcome rest. For the former Seoul star, there are still the rumors of a move to another club over the next few weeks with Liverpool and Arsenal the destinations mentioned the most. That remains to be seen.

Park Chu-young is more likely to move. The 25-year-old striker has just finished a third season in France with AS Monaco and despite the fact he scored 12 goals in the campaign just finished, the 2004 Champions League finalist was relegated. The international star will not relish playing in France’s second division and his performances by the Mediterranean will have done enough to convince better teams to try and secure Park’s signature.

By John Duerden, Contributing writer  (johnduerden@hotmail.com)
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