Ulsan Hyundai FC head coach Hong Myung-bo (L) and the team's forward Park Chu-young pose for photos during Park's introductory press conference in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Nearly a decade after winning a historic Olympic football medal together in London, veteran forward Park Chu-young and longtime coach Hong Myung-bo have been reunited on the perennial K League contender, Ulsan Hyundai FC.
After Park left FC Seoul, the only K League club he'd ever played for, in December, Hong and Ulsan reached out and signed him on Sunday. Park, a 36-year-old forward who didn't score in 17 matches in 2021, suddenly had a lifeline to continue his playing career. He'd turned down a coaching offer from FC Seoul so that he could remain on the field.
At his introductory press conference on Wednesday in Geoje, some 400 kilometers south of Seoul, Park said he wanted to return the favor to Hong and Ulsan.
"Coach Hong and Ulsan brought me here and welcomed me with open arms, and I am going to do the very best I can to help the club," Park said. "I would love to see Coach Hong lift the championship trophy."
Park was selected for the Olympic team in 2012 amid controversy. He had been accused of trying to dodge military service while playing in the Premier League, and the only legal way for him to forego military duties was to win an Olympic medal in London and receive an exemption from the government. Hong boldly declared that he would enlist in the military himself if Park didn't go. It all became moot when South Korea won the bronze medal.
Hong also coached Park at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the duo will now try to win Ulsan's first K League title since 2005.
Ulsan have the dubious record of the most runner-up finishes in K League history with 10. They have finished in second place to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors for three years running. Hong was hired before the start of the 2021 season to buck that trend, but he, too, came up short in his first try.
Just how much of a role Park will play on a deep Ulsan squad remains to be seen. He is not the lethal goal scorer that he had been earlier in his career, which included stops in France, England, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
Park said he has "a clear understanding" of his responsibility on his new team.
"I am going to help bring everyone together and build a strong team," Park said. "I didn't choose to extend my playing career just because I wanted to get into more games. I wanted to enjoy myself more on the field and make sure I have no regrets when it's all said and done."
Park said the mutual trust and respect between himself and Hong helped finalize his move to Ulsan. He added that he didn't want to put Hong in a tough spot, where it could be seen as if Hong were bringing in Park just because of their past history.
Ultimately, the pull of trying to win a championship with Hong and a few of his former FC Seoul teammates was too strong for Park.
"I think all those runner-up finishes will have laid a good foundation for us to take the next step," Park said. "I hope this is finally the year that we win a championship."
Park admitted that he is not in optimal shape because he didn't play much last year, but he has been working his way back into form.
"I have never taken time off from training," Park said. "I will make sure to be ready in time for the season."
Hong said Park should take his time and not push himself too hard.
"He doesn't have to feel any extra pressure and or rush himself," Hong said. "We have a lot of talented players here. And when Chu-young gets into games, those players will help him score goals." (Yonhap)