Sunday, June 17, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: June 19, 12:50 PM UK
Bo-Kyoung next off the production line
The next Park Ji-Sung or the next Shinji Kagawa - the hunt never stops for talented players all over the world as stars from Asia are increasingly in demand. What if, however, there was a player who was a bit of both? Kim Bo-Kyoung was identified by Park himself as a possible successor in the South Korean national team and, if that wasn't enough, the 22-year-old has filled the shoes of Kagawa at Cerezo Osaka, becoming the team's most important player and one of the best performers, if not the best, in the entire league in 2012. There are more where he came from.
Helping Korean and Osaka fans forget about Park and Kagawa is no mean feat, but Kim is not about to stop there. He's ambitious and wants to play in Europe. Links with Stoke and Sevilla have come and gone but a move is going to happen sooner rather than later.
The attacking midfielder, who can play on either wing or in the middle, made the headlines in his homeland last week with two goals in South Korea's 3-0 win over Lebanon in a vital 2014 World Cup qualifier. His second, when he collected the ball from just inside the opposition half, outsprinted the defence and shot home from just inside the area, seemed to confirm the feeling that he was a 'Park with goals'. It has finally confirmed his place in the Korean starting XI and, as he looks forward to a sustained run in the team, he really could become a star on the road to Brazil.
It has taken a little time for him to find his feet for the Taeguk Warriors but the immediate label of 'Second Park Ji-Sung' did not help and neither did the feeling he was lacking defensively. The comparisons with the Manchester United man are obvious and tempting. Not only did they start professional life in Japan's J2 league but Park famously ate frog juice while Kim ate eels and turtles. They are of similar build and physique and it has been said that they look alike.
There are differences, however. If Park has been called an intelligent player with excellent movement that creates space for others, Kim is more direct, attack-minded, and much better in front of goal. He is also, in the opinion of successive Korean national team coaches, more streetwise on the pitch.
Impressive performances at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup when he starred in Korea's advance to the quarter-finals, caught the eye of Cerezo Osaka and he made the move to Kansai at the end of that year. At first, he was loaned to Oita Trinita, a friendly club on the Western island of Kyushu that had a strong Korean connection. Kim, straight out of university, had no problem adapting to life in the second tier of the J-League and, not long after Kagawa headed to Germany, he was in Osaka.
There, alongside the talented rising star of Hiroshi Kiyotake, Kim really started to show what he could do, earning plaudits not just for his goals but for his movement, quick thinking and pure footballing instinct. He has spoken of himself as being more of a creator of goals but his scoring rate is impressive. As the J-League season approaches the halfway stage, he is equal second top scorer in the league with seven goals from 13 games. He managed eight last year and, in two and a half seasons in Japan, he's averaged a goal every three games.
What really impresses is his ability to look like he always has time, even in a crowded penalty area. His smart cross to provide Korea's equaliser in a 4-1 win in Qatar earlier in June was a moment of true class. Such sureness of mind and touch has been evident in Japan for a while, but Kim's fame is set to spread. If, as expected, he impresses in the Olympics this summer, he will be heading west, probably to England. Even if he doesn't shine, Cerezo Osaka are resigned to losing him.
After famously receiving just €350,000 for Kagawa, the Flaming Pinks will be keen to get a better price when the offers start rolling in. Clubs in Japan have been reminded of the need to heed the lessons of the 'zero yen' transfers that saw a number of star players head to Europe without a cent going in the opposite direction. That penny does seem to have dropped as two of the brightest talents in the league of late have just moved to the Bundesliga for fees reported to be over €1 million.
Whether that is a fair price for Hiroshi Kiyotake and Hiroki Sakai remains to be seen but the smart money is on the fact the German clubs got the better of the deal once again, such is the potential of their new signings.
Kiyotake has just recently started to feature in the national team - not an easy feat when you look at the strength of the midfield. The 22-year-old is regarded as the next big thing when it comes to the Samurai Blue. The attacking midfielder with vision to kill for will be on display in the Olympics this summer and in the Bundesliga for Nurnberg next season. Many think he will not be there for long. Hiroki Sakai, the all-action right-back who came up through the ranks at Kashiwa Reysol, was one of the players of 2011 as the Sun Kings won the title. It was announced last week that he has signed deal with Hannover.
European clubs should not be too downhearted as there is still some serious young talent out East. Hideki Ishige was named the 2011 AFC Youth Player of the Year following his performances at the Under-17 World Cup when he helped Japan to the last eight.
His J-League club, Shimizu S-Pulse, are keeping the 17-year-old under wraps for the most part, with a league appearance here and a cup game there, but feel that the midfielder has everything - pace, technique, desire and determination - to be a star. Already, big European clubs have made enquiries but have been told to wait. Shimizu have promised the boy's parents to ease him into professional life gently and he is expected to make a big impact at next year's Under-20 World Cup.
When it comes to midfielders, Japan is something of a breeding ground and standing out is not easy. If there is a weakness going into the 2014 World Cup, it could be in central defence. Mizuki Hamada was born in the United States and has represented both that country and Japan at youth level. Commanding at the back and good on the ball, there are hopes that the 22-year-old can make the breakthrough into the senior team in the not too distant future.
Japan's Olympic team is bursting with young talent - there is an interesting question as to just where that team would rank among Asia's senior sides - and there are sure to be scores of scouts at English stadiums this summer.
They could also do worse that keep an eye on South Korea, too - especially the player who has helped to make the departures of Park Ji-Sung and Shinji Kagawa a little less painful.