The story of another South Korea star’s adventures in Europe started last weekend as Ki Sung-yong made a first appearance in the famous green-and-white hooped shirt of Celtic.
The 20 year-old played the full 90 minutes on Saturday as his new team drew 1-1 with Falkirk in the Scottish Premier League. It was a disappointing performance from the Bhoys but a promising debut from Ki who was impressed with his free-kick skills and was named Man of the Match.
After agreeing to join the famous Scottish club last summer, Ki, had to wait until the end of the year to join his new team as he played out the rest of the K-League season with FC Seoul. Now he is ready to help the 1967 European champions Keluaran HK recapture the Scottish title from Glasgow rivals Rangers.
Ki has already impressed off the pitch with his fluent English and pleased journalists, players and supporters alike by coming up with a more familiar first name. “I spent some time in Australia and there my friends called me David as it’s difficult for some to pronounce my name,” he told the local media upon arrival. “If that helps make it easier, it’s fine with me. Communication is so important if players are to be comfortable with each other.”
Those years spent in high school in Brisbane may have helped his English skills but life on the Gold Coast is a far cry from that in Glasgow. Ki got a taste of that in his first full week in the UK with severe snowstorms and cold weather bringing the country and soccer to a halt and delaying his debut for the club.
That wouldn’t have bothered him too much, Seoul is colder than Scotland in the winter months and the classy youngster has a perfect attitude to match his skills. Already a regular in the Korean team, Ki has been one of the hottest properties in Asia for the past two years or so since he broke into the ranks at FC Seoul. He quickly became one of the nation’s biggest stars and the fact that he is tall and handsome didn’t do him any harm.
Now he has the challenge of charming the legions of Celtic fans that fill Parkhead, the club’s famous 60,000 capacity stadium, on a regular basis. Despite such numbers, Scottish football is in the doldrums these days with the two big clubs, Celtic, and city rivals Rangers, a little less flush with cash than in the past and with the rest of the league unable to compete regardless, many eyes will be on Ki, the 2009 Young Asian Player of the Year, to lift the profile of the Scottish scene.
“In signing Ki, we are sure we will welcome a whole new audience to Celtic,” Celtic Chief executive Peter Lawwell said recently in Seoul.
“This (creating new audiences) is something which proved very successful through the signing of players such as Shunsuke Nakamura previously and we are sure Scottish football will again benefit through this signing. In difficult economic times for Scottish football, we are delighted to make this commitment and bring Ki to Scotland.”
Nakamura arrived in Scotland in 2005 and spent four years there. The Japanese playmaker was a big hit with the fans and the coach. Before leaving for Spain in the summer of 2009, he certainly helped raise Celtic’s profile in Japan and Asia but Ki has warned fans that he is not a ‘Naka Mark II’ but is more similar to a certain all-action Liverpool and England midfielder.
“People will be expecting me to be the new Nakamura, but I’m not. He was a wonderful player and really gifted technically, but that’s not the style I play. I’m younger, faster and stronger. In South Korea people compare me to Steven Gerrard, and I’ll admit that’s who I’ve based my game on.”
“But Gerrard is one of the best and most recognized midfielders in the world. At the moment I’m not, but that’s what I want to become.”