With this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup just around the corner, Korea Republic's youngsters are busy preparing for the finals on home soil, which means they do not have time to enjoy their otherwise eagerly awaited summer vacations.
Not that it bothers the Yoon Bitgaram. Instead, the team's midfield dynamo is looking forward to exhibiting his talent on the world stage and doing enough to fulfill the lifelong dream of playing abroad. His unusually long name - three syllables standing for 'river of lights' - has been imprinted on the mind of those watching, as the 17-year-old is fast flowing into a permanent fixture of the squad.
As the young Taeguk Warriors are about to begin their last training sessions before the curtain raiser against Peru on 18 August, FIFA.com spoke to one of the brightest starlets of Korean football.
FIFA.com: Yoon, through the recent years, you have emerged
as a hopeful to lead the next generation of the game. How did it
Yoon Bitgaram: I was 11 years old when my father persuaded me to start playing football. As I had been enjoying the game with the lads even before then, I thought I was going to continue playing like that, like a hobby. But soon I transferred to schools specialised in football in Changwon and Gimhae, and since then it became part of my life.
Coach Park Kyung-Hoon says it takes some time for players
to adjust to the national team because most of them play different
roles in their school teams. Was it the same with your case?
No, I play as a defensive midfielder for both teams, although I tend to move forward sometimes when I feel responsible to do something for my school team. But basically my role is a link between attack and defence, and I always want to play to help my team work well.
How was the eight-nation tournament last month?
Obviously we didn't perform well and were disappointed with the result. We were a bit nervous and our movements were not good enough because we couldn't play as we had been told: we should have put more pressure on our opponents.
Was it a good lesson ahead of the finals?
Yes. Against Brazil and Ghana, we couldn't match their skills so we had to make up for it with our runs. The play-off for the third place, against our rivals Japan, was disappointing as we thought we could have finished third at least. But we were outplayed in midfield and couldn't score a goal.
So last week's survival training in the Marine Corps
was a kind of punishment?
(Laughs) Well, it wasn't on our schedule actually. After the tournament, the coach wanted us to build team work through the process. At first I thought it was not so difficult for me, but we had to put ourselves to the limit both physically and mentally for five days without rest. It was a hard experience.
Did you follow your seniors during the FIFA U-20 World Cup
To be frank, I couldn't watch every game they played. But the last group match against Poland was impressive. Especially midfielder Lee Sang-Ho caught my eye with his runs and passes between the offence and defence. Lee Chung-Yong also played an important role down the flanks.
What is your goal of the tournament in August?
Personally, I'd like to play well so I will be playing in Europe in the future. My dream is to play for Arsenal in the English Premiership, like Cesc Fabregas, someday. That said, I always try to be a team player as the team comes first. With that in mind, we will be able to achieve something if we try harder. We want to show the power of Korean football to the rest of the world. Even if our seniors have already done that over there in Canada, we want to do it better.