Monaco striker keen to make up for disappointment of 2006.
Academically outstanding during his schooldays in the South Korean city of Daegu – so much so that his parents initially were unwilling to allow him to make a career in football – Monaco striker Park will be resitting his World Cup exams this year.
After an explosive, goal-studded start to his career with the South Korean Under-20s and FC Seoul, as well as being voted Asian Young Player of the Year for 2004, he was widely expected to continue on the high road at the 2006 World Cup finals but achieved little in Germany, confined to the bench for Korea’s opening two games and looking out of his depth in his team’s third and final game of the tournament, a 2-0 loss to Switzerland.
So much for the blanket exposure in the media, the “Asian Baggio” label and the screams of his teenage female fans. On the biggest stage of all, he had been found wanting; premature elevation to superstar status, declared the cynics.
The wounds have long since healed, though, and the chances of him setting his World Cup record straight in South Africa are, to say the least, excellent. At 24, he is older and wiser and now fully established in the South Korea side, scoring four times in the 2010 qualifiers – including one in the crucial 2-0 victory in Saudi Arabia in November 2008, his nation’s first victory over the Saudis for 19 years.
South Korea boss Huh Jung-moo, about to lead the Taeguk Warriors into their seventh successive World Cup, can take great heart from the exceptional strike force he has at his disposal: the opportunism in the box of Lee Keun-ho of J.League side Jubilo Iwata and the all-action, live-wire style of Park. The pair work superbly together. Lee keeps the opposition centre-backs occupied, while the fast, skilful and industrious Park flits left, right and deep.
It is precisely this capacity for non-stop movement and palpable desire which have made him such a popular figure in France over the last 18 months. The day he was unveiled at Monaco following a £2m move from Seoul, a large proportion of the journalists present would have sworn on the spot that the deal had more to do with Asian marketing rights than talent. But such a jaundiced view would not hold water for long, Park scoring one and making another on his debut against Lorient and generally enjoying a brilliant inaugural season in Europe.
No wonder Monaco were so keen for him to sign a contract extension this autumn, tying him to the club until 2013. “He’s one of the most willing and generous players you will ever come across,“ enthuses Monaco coach Guy Lacombe. “When he plays he always gives the impression that he’s dying to have the ball.”
Park, who was so determined to be a professional footballer that he spent a year as a teenager at Zico’s academy in Rio de Janeiro, does, however, come complete with a visible fault line: a tendency for injury. Thus far, his career development has been arrested by a complicated stress fracture of his right foot, as well as thigh and hamstring problems, and another medical bulletin is the last thing Huh Jung-moo will want to see in his in-tray in the coming months.