Unproductive season for Koreans in EPL
By Kang Seung-woo
Although the English Premier League (EPL) ended in thrilling fashion Monday (KST), there was nothing for the league’s four Korean footballers to enjoy.
Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung and Arsenal’s Park Chu-young finished the season with their roles at their clubs diminished, while Bolton Wanderers’ Lee Chung-yong was a nonfactor in his team’s unsuccessful relegation battle due to long-term injury.
EPL rookie Ji Dong-won of Sunderland made a few headlines during the season, but still needs to improve to gain further recognition.
United’s Park appeared in 17 league matches and scored just twice. Given that the 31-year-old also played in as many games last season, he appeared to have featured in manager Alex Ferguson’s plan.
However, as the Red Devils bowed out from various tournaments including the Champions League and Carling Cup, he saw his playing time diminish as United did not have to depend on squad rotation.
In a tight title race with cross-city rivals Manchester City, Ferguson preferred Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani in Park’s position and he was pushed down the pecking order down the home stretch. This has raised speculation that the former Korea international may leave Old Trafford in the summer in an overhaul of the aging squad.
In what might have been his last chance to impress his manager in a crucial fixture against City, on April 30 Park, who had big-match pedigree, struggled as his team lost. In the final outing against Sunderland, he warmed the bench.
The Gunners’ Park arrived in London with a rosy outlook after a solid career in the French league, but it did not take long for the 26-year-old to fall out of favor with manager Arsene Wenger.
The Korean forward scored the winner against Bolton in the round of 16 in the League Cup in October, but since then, he has figured little in the team’s plans, appearing as a substitute in one league match for just five minutes in January.
Worse, despite Arsenal’s late surge into third place in the table, Park — once dubbed a football prodigy in Korea — remained on the sidelines.
The forward, picked as one of the league’s 10 worst signings of the season, is likely to leave the North London outfit to repair his damaged reputation.
Wanderers midfielder Lee began his third Premier League season on the injury list after breaking his leg in a preseason friendly. He made a brief appearance against West Bromwich Albion last weekend but was clearly lacking match fitness.
Desperate to help his side avoid the drop in the final outing against Stoke City, Lee, who has scored nine goals and set up 16 in 78 appearances for Bolton, came off the bench in the second half, but failed to prevent his club slipping to the Championship.
The 23-year-old’s contract with the Trotters expires in May next year, but his annual salary is about 3 billion won ($2.61 million). The average yearly salary in the Championship is 390 million won, so Bolton may look to cut their wage bill and use any transfer fee to help the team return to the top tier.
The 20-year-old Ji joined Sunderland in June 2011 and ends his first EPL season with two goals in 17 appearances.
Despite frequently coming off the bench, he made a name for himself for finding the net against the league’s top performers.
In September, the former Chunnam Dragons striker in the K-League hit his debut goal against Chelsea and then grabbed a dramatic injury-time winner against eventual champions Manchester City in January.
Ji, the nation’s eighth export to the English league, gained some recognition for his strikes but needs to secure more playing time, while also improving his accuracy in front of goal.