Friday, January 4, 2013
Answering Lovecalls from the West
The January edition of AirAsia's inflight magazine manages a full page article on Harry Redknapp without mentioning results, relegation or Mark Hughes. It was impressive - though not as impressive as QPR's win over Chelsea, which was given high billing in the Kuala Lumpur news on Thursday morning. What the magazine says about January's transfer window in next month's issue could make for interesting reading as QPR are not the only club who could be adding new Asian names to their squads for the second half of the season
The mid-winter window is often tough to see through clearly but it is not a secret that since the start of the current season, QPR have talked to a second Korean player in regard to a move to Loftus Road. Most think the man in question was Yun Suk-Young, who plays his football for Chunnam Dragons, not far from Korea's Grand Prix circuit where QPR Chairman Tony Fernandes held court in October.
Manchester City, Everton, Spurs and AC Milan have all been linked with the left-back who caught the eye at the Olympics as Korea won bronze. Yun, who also made his senior debut in 2012, impressed the watching Roberto Mancini at the Old Trafford semi-final and was studied closely by scouts and analysts at Eastlands in all six games for the Taeguk Warriors. The conclusion was that while the Korean team maybe did not have an outstanding player, it was an outstanding team unit. Yun was seen as the epitome of that with his tireless running, excellent defensive work, fine positional sense and the ability to suggest that he can be a threat going forward in the years to come.
Despite the Premier League 'Lovecalls' - as they are labelled in the Korean media - the man in question wants to go to Spain, a feeling that has been reinforced after conversation with Park Chu-Young, now at Celta Vigo on loan. It is perhaps understandable that the striker does not have the best impression of English football after his Arsenal nightmare and seven minutes of Premier League action in a whole season. In a recent interview, Yun told reporters that Park has chatted about the friendliness of the people in Spain, the atmosphere at games and the lack of racism.
Hideki Ishige is another linked to Manchester City, naturally so as the teenage Japanese midfielder has been training with the English champions in the first week of the New Year. One man's training is another man's trial and informally, that is what it is.
The narrative surrounding the 2011 Young Asian Player of the Year who hails from Shizuoka, and has the pace, technique and intelligence that still lies deep within the soil of this one time breeding ground for Japanese talent, suggests City are looking for a Shinji Kagawa of their own. Not yet. Coaching staff at his J.League club, Shimizu S-Pulse, where he broke into the first-team last year, have groomed him partly with the Under-2o World Cup in March in mind. It is unlikely that there can be a transfer before then and another season in the J.League is on the cards.
That is certainly not the short-term future for Keisuke Honda. Transfer windows have been left flapping in the hot air generated by the debate as to whether the Japan international will leave CSKA Moscow and, if so, where he will go. This month is unlikely to be any different. But it may be the one in which he retreats from Russia. Liverpool, Lazio, Arsenal and Manchester United have all made enquiries over the past couple of years with the Italians coming the closest. With his contract ending at the end of this year, CSKA's asking price, the biggest obstacle in the past, may start to fall.
It is not all about Japan and Korea. Teerasil Dangda has established himself as Southeast Asia's top striker. The player, one of the ill-fated Thai trio who went to Manchester City in 2007, is still just 24 and wants to return to Europe. There have been attempts to get him into Spain for a year and these seem to have borne fruit with reports of a trial next week at Atletico Madrid. It could end in tears as Teerasil is not of the required standard to join a team at the top of the strongest league in the world - few players are. One hopes that he can put the experience to good use but it is questionable as to the value of such show trials for player, country and Asian football as a whole.
If Teerasil does somehow end up in Spain, he may come up against Singapore's star midfielder Hariss Harun. In 2012, Jose Mourinho's agent Jorge Mendes took up the 22 year-old's case with the promise of a move to Europe, probably Iberia. It never quite happened in the summer and hopes of a January transfer have been hit by a fractured shin sustained during national team action in November. "...If Mendes gets me into a European club, you can be sure I won't waste the chance. It's the chance I've been waiting for," Hariss, who made his international debut at the tender age of 16, said last year. His time will come.
Yun Suk-Young is not the only player to have been linked with AC Milan, a club that has started to make eyes at the Asian market, though has a lot of ground to make up on a number of English and Spanish rivals. Iran international Karim Ansarifard is another name linked with the Rossoneri, with Milan officials visiting both Tehran and Seoul in recent weeks. It is common for local media in both cities, especially the Iranian capital, to put two and two together to make hype. For the 22 year-old Persepolis poacher, the San Siro is not on the cards - but local papers have been writing about Celtic and Borussia Dortmund for weeks.
Some deals are likelier than others and Australian star Tom Rogic is close to a Reading move. The 20 year-old is seen as the top prospect in the A-League and recently broke into the national team. Physically imposing, technically adept and one of those players who can rise above a frantic fray, the offensive midfielder caught the eye of Chinese and Korean clubs in the 2012 Asian Champions League while in action for Central Coast Mariners. The Asian teams dragged their heels, an indecision they may regret, but would anyway struggle to match the lure of the English Premier League, even if it is a fierce relegation battle.
Rogic may or may not help Reading survive. Regardless, his signing is not about the next four months but the next four years and beyond and there are not that many deals done in January that you can say that about.