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‘Korean players work very hard on and off the pitch’

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Published : Aug. 22, 2011 - 18:34

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Ghanaian striker Asamoah learns K-League culture


He made an impact in his very first game and as soon as it finished, respected SBS TV commentator Park Moon-sung started tweeting about a new and exciting addition to the K-League called Derek Asamoah.

The former Ghana international has spent much of his career in the lower leagues of English football with side-trips to Scotland and Bulgaria. Now he is in Pohang.

It is not a bad choice. Pohang Steelers is the most successful club Asia has ever seen in terms of continental titles, lifting its third in 2009. The red and black shirts are known from Tehran to Tokyo and Asamoah is enjoying wearing his.
Pohang Steelers’ Derek Asamoah vies for the ball against Jeonbuk Hyundai’s defenders during their league game on Sunday. (Yonhap News) Pohang Steelers’ Derek Asamoah vies for the ball against Jeonbuk Hyundai’s defenders during their league game on Sunday. (Yonhap News)

It has been a challenge and an enjoyable one at that. The speedy attacker has had to deal with local defenders that are no slouches.

“They are in very good condition and very athletic,” Asamoah told The Korea Herald.

“Many defenders in England and Europe are bigger, heavier and a lot slower. Here they are quick and light on their feet.” With a laugh, he admits that he prefers the big and heavy types. “I could just kick the ball past the defender and run. Here I can’t do that as some of them can keep up with me, I have had to change my style a little and do more with the ball when I get it and think about what I am going to do before I get it.

“Even if you go past one player, if you don’t push forward, he will come back at you. The defenders never give up and put you under pressure very quickly. I’m learning and getting better all the time. If I go home, I will be playing in slow motion. The game is not especially fast here compared to England but the players are.”

Pohang is having a pretty good season and with just eight games of the regular season remaining, lies in second spot behind leaders Jeonbuk Motors. Whatever happens, the club wants to finish in the top two to be granted access to the latter stages of the championship play-offs. Whatever happens, Pohang will keep going until the last ball has been kicked.

“We battle and we never know when we have lost,” Asamoah said. “Jeonbuk know that better than anyone as we came back from two goals down to win 3-2 in May. We have a great team spirit and we also have very good individual players which can get us great results even when it looks unlikely. Our team spirit is fantastic. Pohang’s players are very dedicated to playing football.

“English players are more relaxed off the field but Koreans take it very seriously and I have learned to do the same. They work very hard on and off the pitch. Even when there is no training, they like to go and work on some aspect of their game. The places where I have played before, when the soccer is done, you are finished and you say ‘bye’ and go and do something else. Here, they do extra.”

It is not just from his team-mates where Asamoah, who has played four times for Ghana, a quarterfinalist at the 2010 World Cup, has learned new things in his time in Korea. He is lucky enough to have Hwang Sun-hong as coach. From the mid-nineties to the early part of the following decade, Hwang was regarded as one of Asia’s top strikers. He also scored the first goal at the 2002 World Cup when South Korea reached the last four.

As well being a genuine legend from his playing days, Hwang is building a reputation as one of the nation’s brightest coaching prospects and Asamoah has been impressed. “I’ve learned a lot from him and learned how to work harder than I previously did. In my previous teams, I was known as a ‘luxury player’ and I didn’t need to defend and it was OK for me to be out of the game for a while as the coach knew sooner or later I could do something to change the game. The coach here has brought a new side to my game, a side that I didn’t know I had. I am closing down defenders and working hard. He has also taught me to be more of a team player and helped me with my movement and positioning.”

In any country, Hwang’s record would earn him automatic respect but as a coach in Korea, he has that anyway. It is a part of the sporting culture that Asamoah noticed quickly.

“In England, if I disagreed with the coach I could easily say to him ‘shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about.’ Here there is more respect and even a little fear. He is the boss and what he says, goes. In Europe, you can spend 15-20 minutes debating with the coach and that is something that I have never seen once here. If I felt the coach was wrong here, I would have to speak to him respectfully, even if I was angry, I would have to deal with it in a different way. In Europe, I would be more emotional and let my feelings out.”

With results going well and team-mates and coach helping, there remains one, very important aspect for any soccer player ― the supporters. Luckily, Korean fans are a pretty forgiving bunch and, if things are not going well on the field, prefer to encourage rather than criticize.

Also fortunate is that this season at least, things have been going pretty well. “The fans are brilliant,” said Asamoah. “The teams I have played at before, if the teams were playing poorly, the fans are quick to be angry. But here, they sing the whole match whatever happens and they always clap us off the field. In England, if you are first or 20th in the league it does not matter, if things are not going well, the fans will let you know and get angry. Here, the fans respect the players and make them feel good.”

“Pohang is a great club.”

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