Ahn Jung-Hwan: The journey continues
Ahn Jung-Hwan is a striker without peers when it comes to scoring decisive goals for Korea Republic. Not just because he has found the net 17 times in 65 international matches, but he is also the country's all-time top scorer at the FIFA World Cup™ with three goals.
But his professional career has not been so successful since he left his homeland in July 2000. After a two-year spell in Italy with Serie A side Perugia, Ahn found himself unemployed immediately after he scored the famous golden goal against Italy in a Round of 16 game at Korea/Japan 2002.
Ahn then returned to the Far East, where he spent almost three years playing for Japanese clubs Shimizu S-Pulse and Yokohama F Marinos. His European dream would go on, however, as he moved to Ligue 1 strugglers FC Metz in the summer of 2005, before switching to Bundesliga side MSV Duisburg in January.
If those four years, which were sandwiched by the last two FIFA World Cups, proved the busiest period in his career, the six months that followed turned out to be the loneliest, with Ahn forced to train by himself without a club.
Putting his seven-year journey behind him, the 31-year-old striker has returned to where he began his career in 1998 - the K-League - and after making his debut for Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Ahn sat down with FIFA.com to talk about his goals, clubs, and his future.
FIFA.com: You have been abroad for almost seven years and now you are back in Korea. How was the opening match last week?
Ahn Jung-Hwan: I was nervous even before the kick-off as I was not 100 per cent fit. But the coach [Cha Bum-Kun] trusted me and I was in the starting line-up. It was raining cold in Suwon and the game didn't go well as I thought.
You started the game as an attacking midfielder. Was it difficult for you to adapt to the new role?
Well, the position itself was not so difficult and modern footballers are required to cope with those kind of changes. But I had to adapt to the new surroundings - new team-mates and new tactics. I was given the No10 shirt and I think this shows the expectations of everyone in and around the club. I'll do my best to fit in the squad, although it may take some time.
Your trademark curly hair was gone. Is the new, simple hairstyle indicative of your determination?
No (laughs), there's no special meaning of it. I don't really care about my hair. I just prefer something comfortable so I can forget about it and focus on the game.
What is your goal for this season with Suwon?
Winning the K-League title. So many times, I've come close to winning it - finishing runners-up in 1999 with Busan [Daewoo Royals] and lifting league cups a few times, as far as I remember. The one and only league title I've won was with Shimizu in Japan, and I want to do it again here.
You have experienced five different leagues so far. Which do you think fits your style of play?
Every league has its own style. For me, the Italian league was a good experience as I'm more of a skillful player than a powerful one. I had a fond memory of the spell in Italy, before I was forced to leave the club.
Tell me more about the incident. What happened?
I read the news that I got the sack a few days after I scored the golden goal against Italy in the Round of 16 game in Daejeon. I was shocked at first but there was nothing I could do at that moment.
Even so, isn't it your best goal yet?
Yes, it's true that winning goals last in your memories. Besides, it was a World Cup goal and something like that is not forgotten easily.
Then what was your best season so far?
Every season is the best for me, because I do my best in every season (laughs). My best is yet to come!
You haven't been called up to the national team since last August. But are you not too young to give up the big tournaments like AFC Asian Cup 2007 or the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Well, for the time being, my priority is to restore my physical ability and match fitness to get a regular place in my club team. I know there is a lot of young talent in the national squad and it's only fair to give them a chance. As for me, I'd love to serve for my country again, but only when they need me.
Where do you think you will go after your contract expires next year?
If I do well, I might get a new contract with Suwon or offers from other clubs. It's too early to talk about that at the moment. But I think good footballers should relish new challenges in new leagues, and I'm always ready for it.