Aashish Gadhvi catches up with Team Korea in preparation for Wednesday’s friendly.
The South Korean national football team are back in town folks, and I caught up with our favourite red shirted devils to check out the team on their one day of training here in London. In a leafy and somewhat swanky end of South London the Korean team trained in the beautiful sunshine in a pretty quiet set up, with only the team, coach, some staff and a handful of journalists. All in all it was a pretty ideal situation for a team to train in. Although the holiday spirit never really left the camp, the Koreans got in an hour or two of training before heading back off and preparing for their friendly against the Ivory Coast on Wednesday at Loftus Road. As the only non-Korean there, many of the people seemed a little bit more interested in me than I was in them! Manager Huh Jung-moo really took to me and we shared a couple of jokes in the broken Korean that I knew. The players were in high spirits and many of them were joking around with some of the journalists they knew, but unfortunately the media vultures swooped in to break up any unnecessary chitchat.
I found the strangest part of the training session the fact that Koreans started off with a bleep test. The dreaded P.E lesson favourite! Strangely enough Park Ji-sung didn’t train with the rest of the team, but just did a couple of laps around the field with another trainer, most likely due to him playing in the Carling Cup final yesterday.
Having seen the Korean team on numerous occasions I was worried about becoming numb to the fact that my heroes were right there in front of me, but that all changed the minute I spotted one of my all time heroes – Ahn Jung-hwan. The man who made history looks much older now compared to the night he headed in the golden goal against Italy, but it was still a real moment when I finally saw him for the first time. He was also one of the more sharper looking of the players in training. No doubt he will have some points to prove coming back into the team, and although I do feel his time may have gone, I do hope he does well. The likes of Ryan Giggs have shown that age cannot stop sheer application and desire; lets just hope that Ahn follows in that mould. Bolton’s Lee Chung-yong was in smiles for most of the session, as was his former FC Seoul team-mate and Celtic’s new signing Ki Sung-yong. All in all the sun was shining, there wasn’t much stress and everyone had fun kicking the ball around.
The team then departed back to the coach, but a few players stayed back for interviews. While all the Korean journalists huddled around Cha Doo-ri for an interview, I quietly (and somewhat mischievously!) slipped away to a near bench where I spotted Ki Sung-yong with some ice on his foot. Knowing that he spent a good part of his life in Australia I assumed he spoke some English, so I approached him with a smile, and a camera! Unfortunately another vulture buzzed around me before I went in for the kill, and I wasn’t allowed to interview him on camera (most likely due the media team being worried about something getting lost in translation), but I would just like to say a big thank you to Ki Sung-yong, who despite being told he wasn’t allowed to talk to me on camera, invited me to sit with him and have a lengthy chat.
I asked about moving to Celtic, and not surprisingly he wasn’t too happy about the bonnie Scottish weather. He strangely enough talked very enthusiastically about his football boots, which were the new Nike T90 Laser III (the same kind worn by Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres). He even asked me about the safety of Glasgow, to which I couldn’t really reply that it was the knife capital of Europe! I just told him to be careful. What really caught me off guard though was when I asked him about getting together with Lee Chung-yong again, and if their friendship had lasted since the FC Seoul days. He replied with somewhat painful honesty that the travel away from home had taken some toll on him, and that being away from his peers, friends and family was difficult for him, but that he wanted to try his best for Celtic. And truly I wish him well. I must say that his attitude was extremely pleasing to a cynic like myself who is all too familiar with the egotistical Premier League types. Ki Sung-yong is a thorough gentleman and it amazed me just how down to earth and normal he was. After nervously asking him if I could take a photo with him he simply replied ‘Of course’. He even apologised to me about the fact that he had to go, but before going I could not help but ask him the question that has been on my lips for the entire time I was with him. I asked him ‘Do you listen to Girls Generation?!’ He replied ‘A little bit!’ What a legend!
Stay tuned for Aashish’s fly on the wall video of the training session.