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South Korea and English Premier League soccer: a strong two-way exchange

South Korea and English Premier League soccer: a strong two-way exchange

This country's love affair with Premier League soccer is at an all-time high, and it is set to increase again with Lee Dong-gook's transfer to Middlesbrough _ the fourth South Korean in England's top competition.
Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo were the Korean pioneers, joining Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively in 2005. After a solid first season, the pair became a trio when fellow 2002 World Cup star Seol Ki-hyeon signed for Reading in July 2006.
South Koreans have emerged as the most successful among Asian nations in the league. Japanese midfielders Junichi Inamoto and Hidetoshi Nakata failed to make the grade consistently during their spells in England, while China's Sun Jihai has been steady but unspectacular at Manchester City.
England's interest in homegrown players has been more than repaid by Koreans. Almost a half million Koreans now have a Manchester United credit card and its interest in English soccer is huge and still growing.
"Most Koreans watch only Premier League on television in Korea," television commentator and English football specialist Seo Hyung-wook told The Associated Press.
"The impact of Park Ji-sung going to Manchester United was tremendous in Korea and it is now every Korean player's dream to play in the Premier League."
Those who do will be avidly watched back home. National broadcaster MBC broadcasts all Reading, Tottenham and Manchester United games while cable channel Xtm recently acquired the rights to Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal matches.
It remains to be seen which network will broadcast Middlesbrough games. They could wait until Lee's British work permit, expected to be a formality, comes through.
When Lee Young-pyo was on the verge of signing for Roma last August, the KBS network moved quickly and paid to secure the rights to show the club's Italian Serie A games. But the network was stuck with the telecasts when Lee decided to stay in London at the last minute.
Lee chose not to leave the world's richest league and his England-based compatriots, all of whom are well-suited to the speed and aggression of the English game because of their training back home.
South Korea's K-League is not only Asia's oldest professional league, it is also one of the most physical and aggressive. For most coaches in the 14-team competition, perspiration, not inspiration, is what counts.
After Guus Hiddink took the national team to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup, the work-rate of the Koreans became globally renowned.
Fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat was still surprised when he took over the national team in October 2005.
"The training was unbelievable _ the players worked so hard," he said at the time. "Koreans never give up."
Common enough to be barely mentioned in South Korea, the majority of players are naturally two-footed and technically sound. The English-based stars can often be seen operating on both sides on the pitch.
Afshin Ghotbi, assistant to Hiddink, Advocaat and now Pim Verbeek, said Korean players fit the bill.
"The speed that they can play is top-notch," he said. "Psychologically, they are very tough and will fight from the first moment to the last, for the coach and for the team.
"Their willingness to work as a unit because of their cultural influences is a big strength."


Updated : 2021-03-02 05:48 GMT+08:00