Aashish Gadhvi rolls the red carpet out for the latest Korean footballer to his the British Isles.
Glasgow Celtic have officially made themselves an unofficial Korea Town by signing their second Korean star in the form of right back Cha Du-ri. This is to add to their collection which already consisted of midfield dynamo Ki Sung-yueng. To add to their Korean pride they released Japanese and Chinese flops Koki Mizuno and Zheng Zhi. I can hear Arirang beaming with Glasgow accents right now! One would have thought that Celtic are cheating on their first love of Japanese footballers with once having Mizuno along with the legendary winger Shunsuke Nakamura. But it seems that Koreans are now the flavour of the month in Glasgow, which considering that Scotland invented haggis and the deep-fried Mars bar, should be a welcome break from the norm.
Their latest signing Cha Du-ri is a player with a background that would have Sigmund Freud licking his lips. Simply put; this guy has some serious daddy issues. The 29-year-old right back was born in Frankfurt, Germany which was where his father, the legend Cha Bum-kun, played during the 1970s and 80s. Cha senior was a pioneer for Asian football, in that he was one of the first footballers to make a mark in Europe. His brilliant displays for Eintracht Frankfurt, then later Bayer Leverkusen made him largely regarded as the greatest Korean to ever play the game, and rightly so. It was a never a surprise that the young Du-ri would become a football player, considering the atmosphere he grew up in, but living up to that expectation can be an overwhelming experience. Just look at Jordi Cruyff, who adopted the name ‘Jordi’ on his shirt to separate himself from the name of his father Johan Cruyff, the greatest Dutch player ever and one of the best footballers to ever grace the game. Cha Du-ri is then lucky that the current Korean shirts adopt the players’ forenames rather than surnames. Living in this shadow is something that Du-ri has had to do his whole career. But the fact that he became such an important component for the Korean national team in the historic 2010 World Cup campaign is testament to a man who has stepped out of his father’s shadow.
Being born in Germany gave Cha Du-ri a very different career path to his fellow Korean footballers. Cha has never played in the K-League and apart from his youth career at Korea University, has only ever played international matches in South Korea. Cha has spent his career in Germany, playing for six different clubs in both the first and second tiers of the German Bundesliga. Being his father’s son meant many people expected him to be a goal machine like his father. But this never happened and during his loan spells to Arminia Bielefeld and Eintracht Frankfurt, he only scored 2 goals in 52 appearances. During this time he played mostly as a striker but was then converted to second striker and wide forward. It was in this position that he played for Korea during the 2002 World Cup but only made a few appearances as a substitute. Cha’s one defining moment in that World Cup was coming off the bench in the Second Round match against Italy when during the dying moments Guus Hiddink decided to send on four strikers. The ball fell to Cha in the box and he performed a spectacular acrobatic overhead kick but hit is straight at Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who calmly bounced it down once and held onto it. Either side of Buffon and it would have been Cha Du-ri’s name living long in history rather than Ahn Jung-hwan’s. A great effort, but the grumbles of ‘his father would have put that away’ were a subconscious thought throughout.
Cha had a decent two years at Eintracht Frankfurt, but surely the club in which his father made such a mark would have taken its toll on the developing footballer. One such moment was a brilliant long range goal which he scored away against Dortmund. The power and precision of the shot was brilliant. So brilliant in fact that many people said he must have his father’s legs. It was a no win situation for him. If he made a mistake it was because he wasn’t as good as his father, if he did well it was because of his father. One always got the feeling with Cha Du-ri that he never really did anything wrong in the Bundesliga, but he also didn’t do anything spectacular in the same way Cha senior did. Perhaps it was for this reason that he felt the need to move on, and in a very sad state of events Cha found himself in the second tier of Bundesliga playing for Koblenz and then Freiburg. However the most important moments of his career were taking shape by this point. After being left out of the 2006 World Cup squad for Korea, Cha reinvented himself in Bundesliga 2. After moving away from the striker position, he became a winger, then a holding midfielder, which exploited his power and strength as well as his defensive abilities. He then cemented his position as a right back, which allowed him to utilise his new found defensive skills as well as bomb forward and attack, using his power and pace. He even became a decent crosser of the ball, something which his father was not.
After an exile from the Korean national team Cha made a brilliant come back, displaying his new skills in his new position. He even ousted up and coming right back Oh Beom-seok out of the team. Nicknames such as ‘The Human Weapon’ and ‘The Terminator’ were coming his way and against Ivory Coast in a friendly in London he was simply outstanding. Having attended that match and watching it from high up is was clear to see the one player who was running the show and that was Cha. He defended brilliantly, attacked with sharp counter attacking skill and suffocated the opposition on the right wing. Calls were soon sent out for him to be in the 2010 World Cup squad and it was no surprise when he put in a brilliant performance against Greece in the opening game. It was strange however to see coach Huh Jung-moo suddenly favour Oh Beom-seok again for the game against Argentina who had a bad game. It was difficult to tell whether Beom-seok was out of his depth because he was against brilliant opposition or if we had just got used to the right back position being an area of defensive safety due to Cha’s presence. Korea lost 4-1 and Beom-seok didn’t make another appearance in the 2010 World Cup. The epic final group game against Nigeria in a way crystallised the entire career of Cha Du-ri. Nigeria’s first goal came from a cross on the right wing and the ball was headed straight to Cha who just lost concentration. Kalu Uche sprung up from behind him and stabbed the ball into the back of the net. So much for new-found defensive skills. But this was Cha version 2.0. He sprung into life spurred on by the set back, much the same as he has done his whole career. His attacking prowess down the right wing was one of the most effective counter attack tools against Nigeria, which he also took into the Second Round match against Uruguay. Again Cha put in a brilliant display, but the Luis Suarez wonder goal put an end to the Korean campaign. While history dawned on the Korean team who had finally emerged from the group stages for the first time on foreign soil, Cha Du-ri had been reborn a new man, or rather a boy who had become a man.
The end of the World Cup has seen the beginning of a new challenge for him and the call from Glasgow Celtic. Scottish football is not at the height of its powers but there is no doubt its still an aggressive league with a lot of physical football and this is something that Cha will want to test himself against and something Korean footballers need to experience more. Ki Sung-yueng so far has had little joy at Celtic but it is too early to judge how good a player he will become. Something tells me that the mentality that Cha Du-ri has developed after a life time of fighting against the odds will make him as good a battler in the Scottish league as anyone else. Let’s just hope we he can stay away from those deep-fried Mars bars.