In Europe, the January transfer window has just opened, leading to a mid-season month when teams can reinforce and replace. It is regarded as an unreliable time to do business with panic buys and high prices as the norm.
But while teams like European champions Chelsea do business with former European champions Liverpool, North Korean international striker Jong Tae Se is set to sign for South Korea’s club, the Suwon Bluewings. If Jong, who cost 300,000 Euros from FC Köln in Germany, passes a medical test, then he will become the fourth North Korean to play his club football south of the 38th Parallel.
Jong was born and raised in Japan to Korean parents, one from each side of the divide, and regards himself as North Korean. Like a number of DPRK players, he made his professional debut in the J-League and it was with Kawasaki Frontale that he first became known in South Korea. He visited the country in the Asian Champions League in 2007.
It was the year after when he became a regional star, scoring against South Korea and Japan at the 2008 East Asian Cup. He then became something of a focal point for media ahead of four all-Korean games during qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
Along with An Yong Hak, another Japanese-born player with K-League experience, Jong became the face and the voice of the DPRK at the World Cup in South Africa, especially after his emotional response to the DPRK anthem before the opening match against Brazil. Jong was happy to talk to journalists from around the world.
His teammates, already out of the stadium and waiting on the bus, would send someone back to fetch the free-talking forward who is fluent in Japanese and Korean and can speak both English and Portuguese proficiently as well. Considering the player’s linguistic talents, it is likely he speaks German too, especially after having been in the country for over two years.
News of the transfer has been well-received by fans. Jong has a star quality that the K-league needs, as well as perhaps being the kind of striker that Suwon, two-time Asian champs, have been looking for.
It remains to be seen how the club handles that side of things. Jong has done dozens of interviews with the Seoul media over the years but he wasn’t playing and living in the country then.
Jong is set to be a big story. Bigger still would be a player moving direct from the north to the south. A couple of clubs in the south have put out feelers in the past, but were told that such a deal would have to wait until after the departure of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who is regarded with hostility in Pyongyang. It remains to be seen if anything will change under president-elect Park Geun-hye.
What is for certain however, is that the next few months are going to be interesting.