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Nov 26, 2011

Good Korea move

The Stadium of Light rises to salute Park Chu-Young for the fifth time in five games as the South Korea skipper finds the net yet again for Sunderland while, in London, young compatriot Ji Dong-Won impresses in the Carling Cup for Arsenal to suggest that his development is continuing apace.

Yes, the above is a work of fiction, but it is certainly not beyond the realms of reality.

With the English Premier League season well and truly into its stride, the two international strikers could be better served by swapping their current versions of the famous red and white shirts in a move that would also benefit both clubs in football as well as commercial terms. It may be far-fetched but it is far from illogical as Park needs playing time while Ji's self-proclaimed priority is to develop as a player.

Park is Asia's in-form striker, he's at the peak of his career with three years of solid Ligue 1 experience under his belt and is desperate for a taste of the big time in the two years or so before he has to return home to do his military duty.

Not one to talk to the press about such things - though a revealing interview with the Korean media may not be too far off - the extent of Park's frustration at the fact that three months into his English Premier League career, he has yet to actually play in the division, can only be guessed at. Intelligent and ambitious, the fact that the striker has scored eight goals in his last five games for his country - he missed Korea's shock defeat in Lebanon - suggests that Park has been taking his displeasure out on Asian defences.

Two Carling Cup games and one Champions League appearance are all that Park has mustered so far in London. A fine goal against Bolton was followed shortly after by anonymity against Marseille. Arsene Wenger may have said, reasonably, that it is hard for a player to adjust to the pace of a game and his new team when he has not been playing competitive football, but since being withdrawn against Marseille, he has not had a sniff of action.

After three months, the mood back in Korea is changing. Fans and media were initially surprised and delighted to see the 26-year-old become a Gunner late in the transfer window after his time with Monaco came to a close. A deal with Lille looked imminent - the new French champions offered a step up - but Arsenal provided glamour and a much bigger stage.

With Park Ji-Sung into a sixth season with Manchester United and Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton nursing a broken leg, newspapers were delighted to have another Premier Leaguer to talk about. Instead of his exploits in London though, headlines these days rarely depart from a depressing theme: "Park again absent", "Why did Arsenal bother signing Park?", "Is it already time to leave?"

It's not too early to be asking such questions as the feeling that Park is wasting his time at Arsenal starts to take hold. With vital World Cup qualification games on the horizon, South Korea can't afford for their captain and star striker not to be playing. The way things are going, he would have been better off going to serve his country in August, rather than warming the Emirates Stadium bench.

Or, joining Sunderland and actually playing in the Premier League. He is never going to become a 'Wenger player' in the sense that he arrived at 26 and his time is limited. It is not as if he can use his time at Arsenal to improve as a player and then get a good deal elsewhere. His next stop is the K-League's army team. If, upon arriving at London's St Pancras station from Lille in August, Park had quickly nipped across the street to jump on a train from King's Cross up to Sunderland, he would likely now be the team's main striker, or close to it - especially with the departure of Asamoah Gyan.

Up on Wearside, Ji has yet to start a Premier League match, though he has made a number of substitute appearances. Unlike Park, at least time is on his side. In fact, the feeling at home was that the striker, still raw, would be better suited to staying in the K-League. After all, he had barely played a season for perennial mid-table outfit Chunnam Dragons. He could have completed his military service for the K-League's army team and then, at the age of 22, headed to Europe with more experience behind him and the only national duties ahead of him coming in the form of call-ups from the coach of the Taeguk Warriors.

When the offer came from Steve Bruce, the player quickly accepted. It is early days but Ji has yet to shine for Sunderland; he has also not impressed for the national team since his move to England and there was some disquiet expressed earlier this month by Korean coaching staff at the condition the player was in when he joined up with the rest of the squad. Perhaps he would be better off at Arsenal, a club famed for bringing on young players, and would not be discouraged by the Carling Cup duties that Park is currently restricted to.

For commercial reasons, too, an exchange could help both clubs. Fans and media out east start to lose interest when their favourites are not playing. In Korea, there is frustration and even annoyance with Arsenal that an established star like Park has yet to be given a Premier League minute but it would be different with the youngster. Ji not starting for Sunderland does not create much interest in Seoul but all would be excited by one of the country's prospects being groomed for the future in North London.

Sunderland are keen to break into the Far Eastern market and Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce were in Korea last month watching Park play well and score against UAE in a World Cup qualifier in which Ji was ineffectual. The main reason for the visit however was to attract sponsors and fans.

It will not be easy. In the summer of 2005, Manchester United picked up the perfect player in Park Ji-Sung, with considerable benefits kicking in both on and off the pitch. Here was one of the biggest clubs in the world signing a player already the biggest in his country and probably the continent. Sunderland are little known in Asia and have signed a player with a profile that is still relatively modest even in his homeland. Park is second in stature only to his Old Trafford namesake at home and he has been one of Asia's biggest stars for years. With regular playing time, the Wearsiders would be in the Korean headlines on a daily basis.

If Park continues to stay on the sidelines at the Emirates, a loan becomes likely and necessary. He could do worse than head to the Stadium of Light to get his club career back on track and if that restricts his compatriot's playing opportunities then there would also be options for Ji Dong-Won.

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