The Asian media have long developed a habit of comparing a burgeoning starlet of their region to a world great whose playing style or facial features he resembles. However, it seemed they had failed to find worthy of comparison with England talisman Wayne Rooney until the emergence of Kawasaki Frontale and Korea DPR striker Jong Tae-Se.
Dubbed ‘North Korea's Rooney’ or ‘The People's Rooney’, Jong’s rise to prominence was not as meteoric as the Manchester United star, who is one year his junior. Jong turned professional when he joined J-league side Frontale in 2006 at the age of 22, but despite this relatively late start, the robust forward was quick to make his mark, scoring 12 goals in 24 games for his club in the 2007 season and forcing his way into Korea DPR’s national team.
He enjoyed a memorable international debut, striking four times to steer Korea DPR to a thumping 7-0 win over Mongolia during qualifying for the 2008 East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) Championship. Another four-goal show in their 7-1 win over Macau sealed Korea DPR’s place in the regional finals, and earned Jong a regular starting place.
It was in the ensuing four-nation event in February of 2008 that Jong began to catch continental attention through his uncanny goalscoring flair. After netting against both Japan and Korea Republic to secure two precious draws for his team, he was lauded as one of the tournament’s revelations.
Jong went on to start 12 of Korea DPR’s 14 games in the final stages of Asia’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers, often playing as the lone striker in coach Kim Jong-Hun’s ultra-cautious formation. The selflessness required in this role has ensured that he has failed to build on his phenomenal scoring record, adding just one goal to his tally, but his contribution in piercing rivals’ defences to create chances for team-mates cannot be overstated.
Like An Yong-Hak, Jong was born and raised in Japan. As a teenager, he decided to dedicate himself to playing football and after spending three years cutting his teeth with the youth team of Korea University, he had his wish granted by moving to Frontale.
On the back of his contribution for both club and country, Jong, who turned 26 in March, is hoping to move to a top European club, where he can make further progress. The FIFA World Cup in June, therefore, provides him with the chance to showcase his talents in front of the watching world. And though so often likened to Rooney, Jong himself is particularly relishing the chance to rub shoulders with Didier Drogba of Côte d'Ivoire, whose playing style the Korea DPR star believes his resembles more closely.