North Koreans abroad

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Holyjoe
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North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Sun Aug 08, 2010 5:45 am

An interesting read on North Korean players plying their trade in Eastern Europe...

Northern Exposure: The People’s Team Abroad
25 Jul 2010

Football teams wishing to be taken seriously at a World Cup should probably avoid losing all of their group games, especially if they concede twelve goals and score just one in doing so. Registering a striker as a goalkeeper in a futile bid to bend the tournament’s squad regulations is also frowned upon, as is hiring a group of Chinese actors to impersonate genuine supporters. As for claiming that the country’s leader imparts tactical advice to the bench during games via an invisible mobile phone, well, that sort of thing can get anybody a reputation.

North Korea had quite a World Cup last month, and almost entirely for the wrong reasons. Despite the huge potential propaganda value of sporting achievement to the reclusive Communist state, just about the only successful aspect of their brief appearance was the nostalgia it evoked for the days when entirely unknown teams could still show up on the global stage.

Such events are almost impossible today. It says something about just how saturated and obsessive coverage of the sport has become that only the most isolated state in the world is still capable of springing a surprise.

From a footballing perspective, however, exactly how isolated is North Korea? On the face of it, every bit as isolated as anyone would expect. The national team has never had a foreign coach, no overseas players have ever appeared for a domestic club, and North Korean sides do not participate in Asian Football Confederation club competitions.

Even the precise structure of the country’s league remains obscure, with the Technical Innovation Contest (TIC) apparently running from February to June, with the six best teams then competing in the Republic Championship in October. Remarkably, none of the winners of the TIC between 1960 and 1984 are known, and in 2004 Pyongyang City Sports Group became the first recorded winner of the Republic Championship – 32 years after the competition was inaugurated.

Look a little closer, however, and North Korean football shows itself to be more outward-looking than appearances would suggest. For starters, there is an established tradition of ethnic Koreans from Japan appearing for the national side, represented in the World Cup squad by defensive midfielder An Young-Hak of Omija Ardija and the now famously lachrymal striker Jong Tae-Se.

Jong is a particularly intriguing case, given that he was born in Nagoya to parents of South Korean citizenship and has never lived in the country for which he has chosen to claim such tearful allegiance.

Of most interest, though, are the native North Koreans who have been permitted to play outside the country’s tightly-controlled borders. At present there are no less than eight North Korean players attached to clubs in Europe, which may come as a surprise to the media outlets which consistently push the stereotype of an entirely inward-facing football culture.

The highest profile of these eight is clearly the aforementioned Jong Tae-Se, who signed for VfL Bochum in early July. The others are Pak Chol-Ryong at FC Concordia Basel in the Swiss Challenge League, Cha Jong-Hyok and Kim Kuk-Jin at FC Wil in the same division, Yong Lee-Ja at Serbia’s FK Napredak Kruševac, Ri Myong-Jun and Hong Kum-Song in Latvia with FC Daugava, and finally national team captain Hong Yong-Jo, who plays in the Russian Premier League for FC Rostov.

Two things immediately stand out. Firstly, North Korean players abroad appear to be following, at least to a certain extent, the tried and tested South Korean pattern of moving in pairs. This phenomenon has been particularly pronounced amongst South Koreans signing for sides in Eastern Europe, where the past year has seen Kim Nam-Il and Park Hye-Sung pitching up at Tom Tomsk, Lee Min-Kyu and Her Min-Young opting for Dynamo Moscow, and Hwang Hun-Hee and Kim Pyung-Rae briefly turning out for Metalurh Zaporizhya in Ukraine.

Going back a little further, Kim Dong-Hyun – on loan to Rubin Kazan from SC Braga in 2006 – was accompanied by a midfielder named Kang Sun-Kyu, who only emerged from the club’s reserves to play in a couple of Russian Cup matches. Meanwhile, merely having a Korean name seemed sufficient to get a contract at Zenit St. Petersburg in 2006, when the club famously signed no less than three South Koreans, Kim Dong-Jin, Lee Ho and Hyun Yun-Min, immediately after the World Cup.

That North Korea appears to be cautiously repeating this process is interesting, as it indicates that the authorities – who retain tight control over the movement of players, and indeed anybody, out of the country – apparently see no problem in using a policy associated with the other side of the 38th Parallel. Other models are certainly available in the region, given that Japanese and Chinese footballers usually move alone to Europe, and why North Korea should instead choose to follow the system used by their bitter enemies to the south remains unclear.

The second point of interest is the geographical distribution of the North Koreans playing in Europe. A brief historical detour should help to underline the potential significance of this.

North Korea officially practices a philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance. Although often interpreted as isolation, in practice it corresponds more to a delicate balancing act which attempts to limit the capability of external entities to exercise political, economic or military influence on the country. This is of necessity an active and evolutionary process, and as a result the focus of North Korean foreign relations has gone through at least three distinct phases.

The first followed the Korean War and sought to balance power between the Soviet Union and China, whilst simultaneously strengthening ties with Eastern Europe and other members of the Communist world. The second ran from the mid-1960s and prioritized post-colonial states and European countries considered to be potentially co-operative, whether through left-wing leanings or simple ideological indifference.

Finally, the current phase, which began following the collapse of the Soviet Union, centers on the USA and Japan and continues to veer wildly between diplomacy and hostile posturing.

Although it is still too early to form any firm conclusions, the initial signs seem to suggest that North Korea’s burgeoning engagement with the footballing world is following some of the patterns established by Cold War diplomacy.

Consider the following. The first native North Korean player to play overseas was Kim Yong-Jun, who in 2006 signed for Yanbian FC in the Chinese second tier. That same year, the duo of Lee Kwan-Myong and the 18 year-old striker Choe Myong-Ho moved to Krylia Sovetov Samara in Russia, where the latter was soon dubbed ’the North Korean Ronaldo’ by sections of the press.

Although neither were particularly successful, with Choe managing a single league appearance and Lee never making it out of the reserves, the parallels between the destinations of these pioneers and the direction of early North Korean foreign relations are nevertheless striking.

The coincidences do not end there. Just as the North’s nascent diplomatic development once expanded from Russia and China to Eastern Europe, so in recent times the region has become a new target for the country’s burgeoning footballer export trade.

In addition to the players currently featuring in the former Soviet bloc, it should be noted that the two at FC Daugava previously played for the club’s predecessor FC Dinaburg before its expulsion from the Virsliga for match-fixing, and that the national captain Hong Yong-Jo turned out for FK Bežanija in Serbia prior to his move to Russia in 2008.

Which brings us to the next stage – co-operative Western European countries. Switzerland of all places is probably about as different from North Korea as it gets, yet behind the obvious divergences lies a long-standing political relationship.

The two states established diplomatic relations in December 1974, and since then the Swiss have educated all three of Kim Jong-Il’s sons, financed the Pyongyang Business School and consistently denied allegations that prior to recent money laundering reforms, much of the Dear Leader’s estimated $4 billion fortune was stashed in various vaults in Zürich.

With a relationship that cozy – although the Swiss government plans to stop development aid to North Korea by the end of 2011 in protest at the country’s nuclear ambitions – the choice of Switzerland as the first Western European country to host North Korean footballers becomes less mysterious. By the same token, expect a long wait before any players show up in France, which has long refused to deal with Kim Jong-Il until he addresses what Amnesty International has described as ’widespread’ human rights violations by his regime.

Whether the pattern will continue to hold in what are increasingly fluid geopolitical and sporting contexts remains to be seen. In any case, it is also clear that wherever they are in the world, North Korean players abroad live under the same rigid controls as they would at home. Chaperones from the country’s intelligence service permanently accompany them, paying particularly close attention to their interactions with the media and ensuring that all interviews conform to a particularly banal – and strictly apolitical – template.

Whilst occasionally resulting in unintended comedy – during his time in Samara, the North Korean Ronaldo once held forth to the press on the dangers of owning a refrigerator, from which an athlete could catch a cold and consequently miss training – the constant surveillance reflects all too clearly the dictatorial society from which these players originate.

Ultimately, it is the dictatorial nature of this society that makes it difficult to do anything other than speculate on the motives and patterns which animate North Korean football and its relationships with the wider world. At the same time, it is precisely this nature which suggests that such patterns are in fact to be found, given that when it comes to the outside world, dictators – especially those responsible for mass starvation and repression at home – tend to leave little to chance.

Whether North Korea really is attempting to conquer the footballing world by adopting a South Korean policy and squeezing it into the geopolitical framework of Cold War diplomacy is unclear. Fact is, nobody knows. But whatever the truth, Eastern European football – as ever – and increasingly the game in Western Europe too, are interesting places to be.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby eujin » Sun Aug 08, 2010 6:39 am

It's interesting that the guy reckons relations with France are so frosty, given they played a couple of warm-up games there prior to the World Cup.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Tue Sep 07, 2010 7:14 am

We've seen Jong Tae-se move to German second division side VfL Bochum and Cha Jong-hyok sign for Swiss second division team FC Wil (though he's still to arrive in Switzerland and Wil seemingly have no idea if or when he actually will) and now Ji Yun-nam, the chap who scored North Korea's solitary goal in South Africa this summer, seems set to be the third member of their World Cup squad to move to a new country as Indonesian side Sriwijaya hope he will join up with them in November, or December at the absolute latest.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Tue Oct 12, 2010 7:15 pm

Holyjoe wrote:We've seen Jong Tae-se move to German second division side VfL Bochum and Cha Jong-hyok sign for Swiss second division team FC Wil (though he's still to arrive in Switzerland and Wil seemingly have no idea if or when he actually will)


... and he's finally made it there three months later than planned:

North Korea's Cha Jong Hyok arrives at Swiss club 3 months after signing
12/10/10

GENEVA — North Korea defender Cha Jong Hyok has arrived in Switzerland to play for second-tier club FC Wil more than three months after his signing was announced during the World Cup.

Wil says on its website that Cha joined teammates — including compatriot Kim Kuk Jin — for his first practice on Monday.

The club says the 25-year-old player's move was delayed by structural changes at the North Korean football federation.

Cha started all three matches for North Korea in South Africa which it lost against Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.

His switch was arranged by Swiss agent Karl Messerli who said in June that Cha's former club Amrokgang will be paid if he is sold on.

Wil lies 14th in the 16-team Swiss second division.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Sun Mar 20, 2011 12:54 am

Hong Yong-jo has left Russian side FC Rostov to return to North Korean side April 25. This article suggests that Ri Myung-jun and Jung Il-ju have both signed for Danish side FC Vestsjælland. It would appear, from Danish news articles at least, that the two haven't yet made it to Denmark as the whole process of arranging the moves has been a protracted ordeal.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Fri Jun 24, 2011 12:46 am

Goal.com isn't really all that reliable, but...

Leicester City submit offer for North Korean striker Jong Tae-Se - report
June 22 2011

Sven-Goran Eriksson's English Championship club Leicester City have reportedly made an offer for North Korean international striker Jong Tae-Se, according to Nikkan Sports.

Japan-born Jong, 27, is currently on the books of German 2.Bundesliga outfit VfL Bochum who fell narrowly short of promotion during the 2010-11 season.

According to Nikkan Sports, the Foxes have submitted an offer of approximately €750,000 to Bochum for Jong's services and are awaiting the German club's response.

Former Kawasaki Frontale striker Jong, who trialled with Blackburn Rovers in early 2010, scored 10 goals for Bochum during the 2010-11 campaign.

Eriksson is familiar with Jong after he coached Cote d'Ivoire against North Korea at the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The Foxes, who have Thai owners, currently have another Japanese-born player on their books in Samurai Blue midfielder Yuki Abe.

Jong is currently back in Japan having undergone surgery on his right knee earlier this week.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Fri Jun 24, 2011 12:51 am

... and the day before that one came out (from FIFA.com, even less reliable):

Jong: I'm really happy in Germany
(FIFA.com) Tuesday 21 June 2011

blah blah blah etc.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby SeoulFox » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:39 am

my mate told me we were after the asian wayne rooney a couple of days ago. would be a decent signing if he could stop crying for a bit. it would however mean leicester had two players i hated with a passion when i was in japan. ho hum.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:27 pm

The offer from Leicester would appear to be up to €1.5m now but Bochum don't want to let him go.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby eujin » Mon Nov 21, 2011 7:25 am

Despite being taken off in the 35th minute against Japan, it seems Chong Tae-se is not injured. (A nice tactical substitution if it was as the DPRK went on to score15 minutes later). I believe he has a condition in his contract that it doesn't get renewed unless Bochum go up to the first Bundesliga. With them down in the bottom half this is not likely to happen although his recent good form has helped drag them away from the relegation zone.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:19 pm

Jong Tae-se is on the move:

Cologne signs North Korea striker Jong Tae Se
January 30th 2012

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) -Cologne says its has signed North Korea striker Jong Tae Se from second-division side Bochum.

The Bundesliga club did not disclose how much it paid for the 27-year-old forward or the length of the contract.

Jong, who is called Chong Tese in Germany, will step in for the injured Lukas Podolski who was ruled out for at least three weeks with a foot injury.

Podolski partially tore a tendon in his left foot during Saturday's 4-1 league defeat at home to Schalke.

Sporting director Volker Finke says Jong fits Cologne's requirements "exactly.''

Jong scored 14 goals and set up five more for Bochum since arriving from Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale in 2010. He played for North Korea at the 2010 World Cup.


Ri Kwang-chon was another North Korean to move clubs recently, going from April 25 to Chinese side Tianjin Teda.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Sun Feb 26, 2012 10:35 pm

Holyjoe wrote:This article suggests that Ri Myung-jun and Jung Il-ju have both signed for Danish side FC Vestsjælland. It would appear, from Danish news articles at least, that the two haven't yet made it to Denmark as the whole process of arranging the moves has been a protracted ordeal.


These two chaps have returned to North Korea now - Ri made nine appearances for FC Vestsjælland and scored three times, whilst Jung made just one solitary appearance for the club. Management seem confident they could get these two players, or some more North Koreans, back in the future.

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby eujin » Mon Feb 27, 2012 1:41 am

Holyjoe wrote:These two chaps have returned to North Korea now - Ri made nine appearances for FC Vestsjælland and scored three times, whilst Jung made just one solitary appearance for the club. Management seem confident they could get these two players, or some more North Koreans, back in the future.

According to the club they were only supposed to be back in Korea for Christmas holidays. They were still under contract and were supposed to travel with the squad to a winter training camp in Spain but were initially delayed back due to "national mourning". The club thinks that North Korea might send some other players over in the summer, but it sounds like they have no real clue what is going on. God, I hope they didn't do too much interacting with the decadent Western lifestyle in Slagelse, although apparently neither of them spoke a word of English, let alone Danish, so they won't have been spending much time in the library.

:drunken:

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby SaintsCanada » Mon Feb 27, 2012 6:06 am

Basel also has Park Joo-Ho. I wonder how the two Koreans get along.
오오오오오, 나의 사랑 인천 에프시!

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Re: North Koreans abroad

Postby Holyjoe » Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:15 am

Thai side Muangthong United have reportedly picked up two North Koreans, Ri Kwang-chon and Choe Kum-chol. Both were part of the North Korean squads at the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Asian Cup tournaments.


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