He is the talk of a nation. Top scorer and best player at last year's Asian Youth Championship, a remarkable nine goals at the eight-nation U-21 Qatar Tournament in January, and a sensational start to his K-League career with FC Seoul, no wonder so many experts are comparing Korea Republic's Park Chu-young with national treasure Cha Bum-kun.

A debut goal - a last-minute equaliser at that - for the senior side in Uzbekistan on Friday and a follow up against Kuwait a few days later has diverted even more publicity the way of Asia's Young Footballer of 2004. But the 19-year-old striker has now set his sights on the FIFA World Youth Championship and before jetting into Amsterdam the Korean hotshot gave a rare interview to FIFA.com.

"I will do my utmost to meet the expectations of my team and fans," Park begins earnestly. "Starting my professional career with FC Seoul was a very special moment for me and now, during the FIFA World Youth Championship, I will try to exploit my full potential and use that experience to reinforce my ability. I hope to get a lot of support from the fans. Every one of them gives me strength."

Park Chu-young is a bright boy. His teachers knew it, his parents were convinced but no-one understood better than himself.

Seven years ago, in his first semester at Chunggu Middle School in Daegu, his teacher admonished the 12-year-old saying, "Chu-young, you got 150 again in your IQ test. With this much intelligence, why do you want to become an athlete?"

His parents, initially at least, had agreed. Like many Korean families they placed high importance on a good education for their child. But the annoying persistence of another teacher, this time of football, convinced them otherwise.

That was even earlier when little Chu-young was studying at Banyawal elementary school. The teacher's name, and it may be recalled in future years, was Si Duck Joon. 

"When I was in my fourth year at primary school, we had an athletics meeting and I played football representing my class. I scored three goals," Park recalls. "After the game, the school's football coach asked me to join the team. My mom and I refused at first, but due to his endless pleas, we couldn't keep refusing. That's how I started my football career."

A Taeguk Warrior
Since then Park's rise has been phenomenal. While never forgetting his work in the classroom, he has come to the attention of even more teachers, coaches and inevitably scouts through his performances on Daegu's lush green grass, handing out his own lessons to youngsters much older than himself.

If he needed any extra motivation to follow the path of a footballer, then Guus Hiddink's history-making, record-breaking team of 2002 provided it. Like millions across the nation, Park, a high school student by then, donned red and became a Devil for those matches that few will forget.
"It was our most valuable and unforgettable moment," he smiles. "I celebrated watching together with my team-mates from High School."

Soon Park himself would become a Taeguk Warrior, albeit it a young one, as he was chosen for Korea's national side for the Asian Youth Championship, qualifiers for the FIFA World Youth Championship.

In Malaysia, the forward, fast approaching his current height of 1.82m, tore through defences. And with his six goals (including the two to beat China in the final) and all-round game, he stood head and shoulders above his adversaries, picking up golden ball and best player prizes to boot as Korea claimed the trophy. It was no surprise when at the end of 2004 he was presented with the Asian Young Player of the Year Award.
His parents smiled on, teacher nodded his head and national team bosses, searching high and low for a genuine goal poacher, gazed more intently in the teenager's direction. Now at Korea University, Park, showing amazing control, dribbling ability and penalty-box-presence, wielded his left and right feet to breathtaking effect in Qatar in early January at the eight-nation U-21 International, notching nine goals.

The face of Korea
He was officially Korea's next best thing. Chosen as the spirit of `Dynamic Korea' in the country's promotion campaign, several K-League clubs came knocking at his door. But with complete faith in his own talent and belief in where his future laid, Park, studious to the last, insisted that his club not discourage a transfer should a European club come in for him.

"It's my dream to play in England's Premiership. While I'm playing in the K-league, I'll prepare for the leap to a European league. I believe my dream will come true," he says prophetically.

Beefing himself up to his present 72 kilos for the demands of the professional game, the newcomer scored on his debut for FC Seoul in March. 

"The K-league is not easy. Every team has its own unique style and strategy," he adds summing up the standard. "Some teams are very strong in defence while others are more focused on attack. It would even take a while for foreign players to adjust to the K-league environment at first."

But the goals just kept on coming for Park.  A goal here, a brace there, and even a hat-trick in one of his last games before leaving has had Korea's press purring their appreciation while commenting on his inspiration.

Divine celebration
Christianity had long since burned a deep impression in the teenagers' soul and given him complete faith in his own abilities. Perhaps picked up from a year spent in Brazil, Park is sparking much attention back home with his openly religious goal celebrations. With each new goal, and their have been many of late, the ritual becomes even more prominent. Coupled with his divine style of play, some have begun to call him the Asian Roberto Baggio. 

"I'm playing football to express my thankfulness to God for giving me such a great talent and I have no intention to change my goal celebration," he confesses. "The first and main reason why I play football is to evangelise people. It would make me happy if just one person became interested in Christianity because of me."

With all the attention it was inevitable that sooner or later national team coach Jo Bonfrere would beckon the boy. Although it meant spending precious little time with his colleagues to prepare for the world youth championship, the Dutchman called Park up for June's two FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against Uzbekistan and Kuwait. And with 90 minutes on the clock in Tashkent, Park answered Korean prayers ghosting in to score the equaliser. And a few days later on Wednesday he opened Korea's account in the 4-0 win in Kuwait that confirmed a spot at Germany 2006.

"If I say that I don't get any pressure, it would be untrue," the striker confides. "But now I've got used to professional football I feel self-confident. If I work on my strength and get more experience in World Cup qualifying matches then it can only be good for the youth team."  

Drawn in Group F alongside champions and perennial favourites Brazil, Nigeria and Switzerland, Korea Republic and Park face a tough task even to make it beyond the group stage.

"This first match (Switzerland) will be crucial. I assume Korea will go all out to win it and, to be honest, I think we have a strong chance of doing so.

"I played Brazil twice last year and we are aware of their qualities. Nigeria too is going to be very tough," he praises. "Although I will not have much time to do so, the team will certainly have to prepare well if we are to make it out of the group.

"A place in the semi-finals would be wonderful and would emulate that achieved by the Korean team in Mexico in 1984."

On his personal ambition, Park remains non-committal. Reassuringly mature, he sees the tournament as an opportunity to learn from other footballing styles and to improve his own development.

"Actually, I have no specific goal target in my mind yet but obviously I wish to score as many as possible," he says in true forward fashion. "I consider my physical strength as being above average compared to other footballers but I probably need to improve more on preparing for matches and analysing opposing defenders. I want to improve my free kick technique as well."

An admirer of Frenchmen Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, Park refuses to consider any footballer his idol. His only source of inspiration comes from higher above.

"As a disciple of Jesus, I would like to preach and praise the Lord my whole life," he says. "When the time comes for my retirement, I would like to begin missionary work while teaching and playing football."

Park always writes 'Jesus is Christ' next to his autograph. With far more requests likely in the future, that long signature could well become a true test of his devotion.