Son Heung-min gets all the headlines, but Park Joo-ho is not far behind

September 30, 2015
Dortmund's scorer Park Joo-ho, right, celebrates with teammate Adrian Ramos after his decisive goal during his Europa League group C match against FC Krasnodar in Dortmund, Germany, Thursday. (AP)

Dortmund’s scorer Park Joo-ho, right, celebrates with teammate Adrian Ramos after his decisive goal during his Europa League group C match against FC Krasnodar in Dortmund, Germany, Thursday. (AP)

The move of Son Heung-min to Tottenham Hotspur at the end of August for a record fee of around $33 million made plenty of headlines in Korea and around the world. It was significant for a number of reasons but it also overshadowed another big move.

At the same time, Park Joo-ho joined Borussia Dortmund of Germany.

On and off the field, the left-back is not one to chase attention. He just gets the job done and is reliable and solid all the way. The 28-year-old rarely makes mistakes and is as consistent as they come. Quietly, he has become one of Asia’s best defenders.

The Seoul-born star has never played professionally in his homeland, starting out in Japan and playing in the J-League for Kashima Antlers and Jubilo Iwata. Then, in 2011, the call came from Europe in the form of Switzerland’s FC Basel, the country’s leading club. There, Park quickly became first choice left back and helped the team to the Swiss title and, impressively, into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.

After two years in the Alpine nation, he made the step up to the big leagues, joining Mainz 05 in Germany’s top flights. Again, after two very solid seasons, he got the big move to a big club in a big league.

Borussia Dortmund is a genuine giant, regularly watched at home by 80,000 fans.

The move came at the behest of Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, one of Europe’s highest-rated young coaches. Tuchel was Park’s boss at Mainz. The 42-year-old became Borussia’s boss in April and did not waste time bringing the Korean to the Ruhr area.

Park has to battle for a starting spot and has yet to play in the league. His debut came in a Europa Cup game against FK Krasnodar and it was a good one. In the first half, he played as a defensive midfielder, as he has done for his country on occasion, and recorded a fine assist to make the score 1-1. He moved to left-back in the second period. It was an exceptional debut and topped by scoring a last-minute winning goal.

His boss was delighted. “I know Park Joo-ho and I know that you can rely on him 100 percent,” said Tuchel after the game. “It was not easy for him _ new team, new surroundings, various positions. It took him a while to find his flow, but he worked through it. This bears witness to his great heart.”

Of course, this does not mean that Park is going to a regular. He is yet to make a Bundesliga debut; missing a game against Darmstadt during the Chuseok holidays.

Displacing German international Marcel Schmelzer at the left-back spot is not going to be easy. The 27 year-old has been a regular in the position for a number of years though has had some injuries. Yet Park’s versatility and reliability mean that he is going to play a number of games, even if he may not take the field every week.

“I’m obviously pleased whenever I get the opportunity, but I won’t be banging on the coach’s door,” said Park. “I want to help the team. The most important thing is that we’re successful as a team, and at the moment we’re on a really great path. I don’t know how many chances I’ll get in the first team but I’ll try to make every one of them count.”

He has certainly done that so far with one of the best debuts imaginable. If he plays like that every time he is selected, he is going to be selected often, and he may even challenge Son Heung-min when it comes to headlines.