The next few months are vital for players hoping to go to the World Cup and this is a big week for South Koreans with dreams of making the final 23 that makes the plane in June. Not only does the European transfer window open for a month, meaning that players could be heading to Europe or those already there could move around, but Data HK coach Huh Jung-moo is taking 25 players to South Africa, the host country of the 2010 tournament, for some acclimatization, training and friendlies.
There are a number of absentees however. Players based in Europe will not be heading south as the European season is still ongoing. So instead of games in Johannesburg and Durban, the overseas stars will be busy with their domestic commitments in England, Scotland, Germany and France.
The problem is that not all of them are busy. The likes of midfielder Cho Won-hee have been in the worst of both worlds. They left Korea for European experience and so miss a number of training camps and exhibition games that take place at home and remove themselves from the watchful eye of the coaching staff. That is not a big deal if you are in the big leagues and testing yourself against some of the best players in the world week in and week out. Coach Huh would love to spend time with the overseas players more often but is quite happy to let them go in the knowledge that when they do return, they return as better players.
But when those players are not playing regularly, it becomes a problem. Cho joined Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League in early 2009 and has barely featured – just making four appearances in that time. He has been a little unlucky though. Soon after arriving in England, he returned to Seoul for a 2010 World Cup qualifier against North Korea. He injured himself in that match and so could only make his debut for his new team right at the end of the season.
Worse was to follow. Steve Bruce, the former Manchester United captain, left Wigan in the off-season to take the vacant Sunderland job. Bruce had publicly talked of Cho’s abilities a number of times and seemed to be a fan of the midfielder. These things happen but it came at a time when Cho had not yet established himself at the club.
New boss Roberto Martinez is a young gun, a coach that had showed potential in the lower leagues in England before finally getting his chance in the top tier. He has been less keen on Cho and the player has started only two games all season – one which hasn’t been a great one for the club. Surprisingly however, Cho did start the final match of 2009, a trip to the home of champion Manchester United to face compatriot Park Ji-sung. It was a night to forget for Cho as his team was crushed 5-0.
Earlier this week Cho arrived back in the Land of the Morning Calm to rejoin Suwon on loan. Whatever happens, he is unlikely to be returning to Wigan.
The future of Seol Ki-hyeon is still up in the air. Seol, a star of the 2002 World Cup, made just five appearances for Fulham in 2009 and just two of those came in the Premier League. It is some time since Seol was a regular Taeguk Warrior but he has been called up of late by coach Huh. The attacker knows that he needs playing time to make the plane in South Africa.
“There have been rumors of his release several times, so we do not see it as too serious. We will find out what is going on first,” Seol’s management agency said last month.
“Although Seol belongs to the player clear-out list, his contract does not expire until next summer. We need not be in a rush.”
The 30 year-old has never played in the K-league and that isn’t about to change soon, according to the agency.
“Currently, it is not in the cards. If there is a team interested in recruiting Seol, I wonder if it could pay his transfer fee of 2 billion won (around $1.7 million).We will look for another team in the Premier League or another European league.”
There is sure to be some movement this month all around the world as players look for playing time before the World Cup.