After arriving in Europe without much fanfare in 2008, Park Chu-Young has become one of the hottest properties in the French top flight and an automatic starter for Korea Republic's national team. Furthermore, his understanding with Brazilian wide-man Nene has lifted AS Monaco into the upper reaches of Ligue 1, while his performances on the Asian stage have helped the Taeguk Warriors secure a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where many are tipping them for a strong showing.
Much has been said about Park Chu-Young’s on-field intelligence, but with an IQ of 150 that is hardly surprising. Indeed with such a keen intellect, he probably could have succeeded in any field, particularly research, the career his parents had in mind for him. However, thanks to the insistence of his Physical Education teacher at Banyawal primary school, he finally opted for a career in sport.
While still excelling at school, the youngster continued to make progress on the training pitch, where he gave his elders more than one footballing lesson. It was to be a career choice Park never regretted, and one only reinforced by Korea Republic’s remarkable showing at “its” FIFA World Cup in 2002. “My high-school team-mates and I were just crazy about football, and the 2002 World Cup is one of my best memories,” said the striker, who can scarcely have imagined back then that he would one day become a national icon himself.
On the fast track
The potential of this lightning fast and technically-gifted athlete first popped onto the radar while he was sporting the colours of Korea University. The Daegu-born forward then hit the headlines in 2004 when he was he named Asian Young Player of the Year after a starring role in his country’s AFC Youth Championship triumph that same year. Such was the impression he made there that he not only picked up the tournament’s top player award, but he also scooped the top-scorer prize courtesy of six goals.
Park’s star rose even further when he scored the equaliser on his full international debut on 3 June 2005, a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan in the Asian Zone qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. A few weeks earlier, he had found the net nine times during the Qatar Friendship Cup, a U-21 international tournament, so it was no surprise when K-League giants FC Seoul secured his signature that same year.
My high-school team-mates and I were just crazy about football, and the 2002 World Cup is one of my best memories.
Despite an impressive first season in the K-League, during which he managed to score 12 times in spite of barely having turned 20, it was a trajectory he could not maintain. Following a less-fruitful second year with his club, he was consigned to a peripheral role at Germany 2006, where he played only part of his side’s final group game against Switzerland. Nor did his fortunes improve at the Asian Games later that year, when he failed to add to the brace he scored in the team’s opening game against Bangladesh.
Park was understandably determined to turn the corner in 2007 and kick-start his faltering career. Things started well enough with four early leagues goals with FC Seoul, only for a serious foot injury to cut short his season.
In a bid to turn over a new leaf, the player decided to leave his homeland and try his luck at Monaco, where he arrived at the start of the 2008/09 season. “The fact that I was relatively unknown in Europe gave me a great chance for me to bounce back. That said, I was under a lot of pressure after my good start and found it difficult to shield myself from that,” he remarked of that period.
A chance to shine
Though the Korean is now a regular goal-scorer and fixture for the principality side, it took a long time for him to fully regain his confidence and instincts. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the pressure here, but the fact that I now know the world of professional football a little better has made me more confident,” he said recently. "Notwithstanding that, I still need to improve the way I prepare for matches and analyse opposing defences,” added this keen admirer of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.
With his exquisite technique and fierce determination, it is no surprise he has become a popular figure at his club. "He lives healthily and gives all he’s got for the team," says his coach Guy Lacombe, adding: "He puts in so much effort, and is so skilful and effective with his head that he’s bound to be a threat."
A deeply devout individual, Park is clear about the ultimate purpose of the career and has said publicly: "Football allows me to express my thanks to God for giving me this talent." Still only 25, the front man will have the ideal opportunity to showcase this talent at the upcoming 2010 finals in South Africa, where a fine display for the Warriors could have the fans dreaming of another 2002.