Arsenal’s South Korean star Park Chu-Young has sure made a lot of headlines around the world recently, especially for a guy who only played a handful of minutes in the Premier League last season. Much of the recent fuss has to do with Chu-Young’s military service in his homeland and his exclusion from the national team, but inclusion on the nation’s Olympic squad.
The 26-year-old Park was left off of South Korea’s World Cup-qualifying squad recently, but has been added to the Olympic team as one of its over age players. The striker joined the Gunners last August after playing three years in France with A.S. Monaco. He joined the team with a fine scoring record of 25 goals in 59 internationals, but manager Arsene Wenger rarely let him off the bench. He also improved with Monaco each year by scoring, six, nine, and 12 goals. In total with Arsenal, he played six games and scored one goal.
To make matters worse, Park didn’t have much time to impress his new bosses since the law in South Korea states that most able-bodied citizens have to start two years of compulsory military service by the time they reach the age of 28. This means he would have had to return to Korea sometime in 2013 to fulfil his obligation.
But earlier this year, in March to be exact, Park’s lawyer said that his client was granted a 10-year extension from his military duty since he was given a 10-year residency visa by Monaco. It’s believed he actually applied for it before joining Arsenal. This is acceptable under South Korean law and it looked like he could enjoy the next 10 years playing football without having to worry about shining his rifle.
But it’s a pretty sensitive issue in Korea. Many people weren’t too happy about a millionaire footballer being given an extension while most citizens have to stop whatever they’re doing with their lives for two years and head off to the army. Of course, people accused Park of receiving favouritism due to his celebrity status.
In fact, it’s believed that some people will do just about anything to dodge their duty. It’s believed that a South Korean television star and singer named M.C. Mong had his teeth removed so he wouldn’t have to head to the military. He ended up being found guilty and was handed a suspended sentence in 2010 as well as being sentenced to perform community service.
Park’s extension more or less cost him a spot on South Korea's World Cup-qualifying team in June after manager Choi Kang-hee said he was left out due to the controversy over his military service. This led to Park addressing his fellow countrymen and women soon after and he issued a public apology for his actions regarding the extension.
He said, "I understand that there was a huge controversy concerning my military service. I would like to apologize for all the trouble this caused, and for letting people down. I learned a lot about football while playing with A.S. Monaco for three years. I started dreaming of learning more in Europe as a football player. But even though I delayed military service, I never planned to emigrate or avoid it altogether. I submitted a handwritten letter to the Military Manpower Administration pledging to fulfil my military duty, and I promise again today that I intend to honour that."
After apologizing, Park was selected to his country’s Olympic team for this summer’s Games in Britain. Oddly enough, if Park helps lead the team to a gold medal he might end up being pardoned from his military duty altogether. Some South Korean athletes are given exemption from their service if they achieve success for the nation. For instance, the country’s 2002 World Cup team was pardoned from duty after it made the semi-final of the tournament and brought the nation together.
South Korean Olympic manager Hong Myung-bo said Park will be depended upon heavily at the Olympics due to his wealth of international experience, but doesn’t want him to try and do too much since it might affect his performance. But when training camp opened in Paju on July 2nd, Park wasn’t there. This is because he’s only allowed to spend 60 days in South Korea each year and he’s almost used them up already by going home after the Premier League season.
Park is in Japan at the moment where he’ll train by himself with a J-League team. He’ll apparently then head back to Korea to play in a friendly against New Zealand on July 14 and then leave for England after the match. What happens after the Olympics will be interesting. Park’s a mobile striker who knows where the goal is. But with Robin van Persie likely to leave, the Dutchman’s place has more or less been filled by Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner could also be on their way out and nobody really knows what the status of Marouane Chamakh is. Park could conceivably get some more playing time this season, especially if he impresses during the Olympics. However, if he’s shackled to the bench again this season, there really won’t be any reason for him to stay and Wenger should give him the opportunity to play elsewhere. He’s too good of a player to be watching from the sidelines.