In Asian football, Jong Tae Se is the name on everyone's lips right now, and has been ever since he scored against both Japan and Korea Republic in February's East Asian Championship.
The Korea DPR striker, a third-generation Korean-Japanese, was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1984 to a South Korean mother and father from the northern portion of the peninsula. After joining J.League side Kawasaki Frontale in 2006 from Korea University, an academic institution for North Koreans raised in Japan, he became a regular for the club midway through last season. The player ended the campaign with a respectable 12 goals in 24 games before capping a fine season by fulfilling his dream of lining up for Korea DPR last June.
Blessed with terrific strength, which he uses to brush off defenders and hold the ball up, Jong has been dubbed the 'Asian Wayne Rooney'. The striker also possesses a fierce shot, scores his fair share of goals with headers and likes nothing better than surging into attack, as he showed during his star turn at the recent East Asian Championship.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Jong spoke about a range of topics, from his recent form and international call-up to his unconventional path to professional football.
FIFA.com: Have things changed much for you since the East Asian Championship? Jong Tae Se: They certainly have. I'm busy every day speaking to reporters, 90 per cent of whom are from Korea Republic. I've also had two requests to make documentaries about my life. I'm very happy about the media interest, but it hurts that some may feel I'm not concentrating enough on my game. This was especially true at the start of the season, when I didn't play well for my club.
Did being in the limelight make you anxious?
No, I didn't feel anxious. Everyone at the club was in great shape after pre-season training, but I was away with the national team and couldn't train as hard as them. I was upset not to be starting, but I accept the boss's decision. I just had to focus on my training and get back into shape.
To continue playing for club and country, you will have to remain at the top of your game, won't you?
Yes, I can be very inconsistent, so it's vital for me to stop having these fluctuations in form. It's really hard to always be on top of your game, but I've got to put in the hours on the training ground and eliminate this inconsistency.
You had a great season last year, scoring 12 times in 24 games. But with the top strikers such as Juninho, Kazuki Ganaha and Masaru Kurotsu in the squad, there must be a lot of competition for places.
I hope to score at least ten league goals. I know there is a lot of competition for starting places, and I want make sure that it's me in there winning trophies for the team.
How did it feel getting called up to play for Korea DPR?
I feel I am North Korean and it was a great honour to be selected to play for them. Actually, I had great expectations when I joined up with my team-mates, but I was a little disappointed. The J.League is blessed with great training facilities and support structure, but facilities are not as good in North Korea. The team's fighting spirit also let me down. We played much weaker teams in the qualifiers for the East Asian Football Championship, and my team-mates took it too easy. At Frontale, we're taught to always respect our opponents and give everything in our performances. This made me angry at first, but in the finals of the championship, everyone worked hard and had a real will to win.
Are you motivated differently for international and club matches?
I want to win every game I play for club or country, and I can only play with urgency and give it 120 per cent. But the impact of results in international games is what sets it apart - the attention we receive is so different. The [East Asian] championship match against Japan was very special for me. It was more than football; it was the culmination of everything I've worked for.
How far can Korea DPR go in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa?
Of course, we're aiming to qualify for the finals. But looking at it from a professional perspective, we face many hurdles. However, North Korean players are physically strong, fast and tough in the tackle. It'd be a real waste if we didn't make the most of these attributes. I think we have a reasonable chance if we play to the best of our abilities. I'll be in the thick of it demanding this from my team-mates, even if some people may feel I'm shouting too much.
You have been dubbed the 'Asian Wayne Rooney'. Do you see similarities? If you watched the East Asian Championship, maybe you'd think that the way I go for goal is similar, but I don't think we're alike. We have the same coloured boots though! Rooney is a year younger than me, but he's a wonderful player.
Would you like to try your hand in the Premier League some day?
I'd love to give it a go. I like speaking English and so an English-speaking country would suit me. I'd like to see what I could achieve under that kind of pressure.
*Getting to where you are today was far from easy, I would imagine. * I dreamed of playing in the J.League when I was a primary school kid, and I knew I wanted to become a pro when I left high school. However, I was only playing for the reserves at a youth team and, as I hadn't been to a famous footballing school, there was no obvious career path open to me. I went to university and decided to work hard to become a professional, but Korea University had a poor team. I was very anxious about my future around this time. I then got a trial with Yokohama F. Marinos, but I was useless. I recall Yuji Nakazawa dispossessing me easily and how awful I felt. But that gave me the impetus to start doing weight training, as I was determined not to let Nakazawa get the better of me (laughs).
Did these tough times in your teens make you the player you are today?
I think so. I was very disillusioned at the time and felt very gloomy. At the youth team, my talent got me singled out for special training and I was selected for the university draft. I then went on to play in a national tournament, and the feelings I experienced there made me determined not to lose out to other talented young players. And I don't think I did. I wasn't content with any game I played in before I became a pro. Those disappointments led me to train twice as hard. It wasn't the environment I was in that made me strong, it was my own determination. I always set goals and try to believe that now is the best time of my life. I want to live my life to the full with no regrets.