North Korea is a mysterious place. The closed borders, the crazy dictators, the funny marches all add to the intrigue. Well one way North Korea is opening up to the world (slowly) is with its football players.
A few are moving abroad, although strangely all still have to be accompanied by a government minder, and have to keep interactions with their new country to minimum. Before manager’s complain about interfering agents, perhaps they should be happy they don’t have government ‘agents’ watching their every move.
Hong Yong-Jo – FC Rostov
Is perhaps the biggest success of any NK player moving abroad (if not including Jong Tae-Se, who plays for NK, but is a Japanese citizen). Yong-Jo moved to Serbia to play for FK Bezanija in 2007, and surprisingly found enough success to convince Russia’s FC Rostov to make a move for him. A fringe player, but not a bad one. Yong-Jo has played over 30 times for the club between 2008-10. Strangely, although perhaps not bearing in mind we’re discussing NK, the player just disappeared at the end on the 2010 season. FC Rostov reported they tried to track the player down but were met by a wall of silence when contacting North Korea’s football authorities.
Pak Kwang-Ryong – FC Basel
The Swiss champs are building quite a name for themselves this season after knocking Man United out of the Champions League. South Korean star Park Joo-Ho has made a name for himself starting at left back for the club, but you may not yet know his Northern counterpart Pak Kwang-Ryong. The young NK striker is just 19, and mostly plays for the reserves. Pak seems to have a good future at the Swiss club, but Basel Manager Heiko Vogel admits there are headaches dealing with a NK player.
“When they joined our team there were some orders from the North Korean government. So it’s OK if we have a picture of the whole team or pictures during the matches, but if you want to do an interview or pick some pictures of both, that means … war”
Ri Kwang-Chon – Muangthong United F.C.
58 caps for the DPRK national team saw the striker move to the barely-a-step up Thai league. Briefly shared the same field for the club as recently returned Robbie Fowler and Zesh Rehman. The 26 year old was part of North Korea’s 2010 world cup team.
Cha Jong-Hyok – FC Wil 1900
One day your lining up against Brazil, next day your back in the Swiss second division. That’s the life of NK right back Cha Jong-Hyok, who started for the club at the 2010 world cup. He now plays for Swiss minnows FC Wil 1900, alongside compatriots Rim Chol-Min and Kim Kuk-Jin. It appears FC Wil may have the best scouting system in North Korea. If your thinking that’s an odd link? North Korea to Switzerland, then you’d be right, but it’s all thanks to the one and only football agent active in NK Karl Messerli. With Messerli in place the Swiss league will be likely seeing many more of the odd lives of NK footballers.
With these not exactly setting the beautiful game alight, it appears we’re some way off seeing a Pyongyang Messi.