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Maradona Step Aside! A New “Shy” Killer on the Soccer Field

Maradona Step Aside! A New “Shy” Killer on the Soccer Field

Posted October. 11, 2004 23:25,   


“Um… I’m not really good with words. And this is my first individual interview…”

Soccer player Park Joo-young (19, Korea University) scored six goals at the 2004 Asian Youth Under-20 Championship, and won the “triple crown” as tournament champion, top scorer, and MVP. But Park, who is fearless on the field, is painfully shy off it. He answered every question with an awkward smile and a terse “Yes” or “No,” leaving the interviewer both perplexed and perspiring.

Nonetheless, Park becomes a wild stallion once he steps on the soccer field, and he commanded the Asian soccer world at this year’s championship. We met with him after his return to Korea on October 11 at a café in Oryu-dong, Guro-gu, Seoul just before he set off for his hometown of Daegu with Cheong-gu High School classmate Han Je-gwang (19, Ulsan Hyundai).

A Soccer Genius of Extraordinary Modesty—

During the final match against China on October 9, Park dribbled past four opposing players in a move reminiscent of Argentine soccer hero Maradona and scored the first goal.

“Frankly speaking, my dribbling isn’t all that great. I was about to shoot, but the Chinese players kept coming in for tackles and all I did was just try to get enough room to kick the ball.”

He never brags about his performances. His friend Han, seated beside him, quips, “Joo-young is quiet to the point of aggravation. It’s okay to show off a little when you’ve done really well, you know.”

Byeon Byeong-ju, who was one of his teachers at Cheong-gu High School, remarked, “Joo-young is a genius. He has an IQ of 150. His instinct for scoring goals is certainly outstanding, but I believe that his ability to read the game and make intelligent plays is the best in the country.” In other words, Park has not only exceptional dribbling and shooting skills but a broad field of vision to boot.

Worried Rather than Overjoyed—

“So many people greeted me at the airport this morning. I’m very grateful, but it’s also a burden. I’m worried that I’ll become lazy.”

All throughout the interview, his phone rang with calls of congratulation and requests for interviews. He confesses that his new “superstar” status sits heavily on him, rather than making him happy or excited. He says there are countless posts on the internet bulletin boards as well. Some are words of encouragement—“Your goal was more impressive than Maradona’s,” “It was the finest shooting I’ve ever seen,” etc.—but others are words of advice, like the one that counseled him “not to be content with what you’ve done but to work harder and become the best in the world.”

Park is a devout Christian. He says that his religion is a big help in checking himself against becoming lazy or arrogant.

To Become the World’s Best Goal-Getter—

Park’s dream is to play in Spain’s Primera Liga or England’s Premiere League.

When he’s not training, he spends most of his time watching big league matches on TV. Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid), Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Manchester United)…

Rather than imitate one particular player, Park is trying to learn from the strengths of various players. He affirms that, from “eternal libero” Hong Myeong-bo (who recently announced his retirement), he wants to “learn from his quiet, earnest attitude on the field and his charismatic leadership toward younger players.”

Studying is Important, Too—

Park is a college freshman, but he has yet to attend a single lecture. He was recruited into the national youth team at the beginning of the year and has been hard at work since.

“I want to make new friends in college, and go on dates… but I never have the time. I’m on leave until October 17, but I have to go to Gwangyang-si on October 18 to train with my team.”

It’s a brief but hard-earned rest. He says he wants to shed all of his accumulated stress by getting together with his friends to go to the movies and sing karaoke. A genius is always lonely, it seems.

Jong-Koo Yang yjongk@donga.com