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South Korea women's midfielder Park Ye-eun: "It's my dream to play abroad"

South Korea women midfielder Park Ye-eun interview WSLPark Ye-eun is one of the rising stars of the Korea women's national team. The 25-year-old has been catching the eye in the WK League in recent seasons and has been pivotal in helping Gyeongju KHNP challenge for the title. But the midfielder now has her sights set on a move to the U.S. and the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

Predominantly a right midfielder, who can also operate in the centre, a move abroad for Park Ye-eun seems to be only a matter of time. The national team starlet recently spoke to K League United for an exclusive interview about her career, her aspirations and much more. 

Park Ye-eun has been a regular feature in the Korean women's national team in recent years. She was recently involved in the team's friendly matches against New Zealand at the Goyang Stadium, crucial preparation for the upcoming AFC Women's Asian Cup.

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Q: You came on as a substitute against New Zealand recently. How important was it to play top-quality opposition heading into next month’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup?

A: "Playing against a top-quality opposition made us experience the speed and physical quality of them. It also provided us with an idea of what part of the game we need to work upon. We’ve got the confidence to play against top teams.” 

Park was in the starting lineup in South Korea's clash with the mighty USA held at the Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City in October. The match earned the team plenty of plaudits as they ended the Americans' 22-match winning streak at home with a very credible 0-0 draw.

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Q: You started against the USA and looked lively in the historic 0-0 draw in Kansas City. How was the experience going up against the reigning world champions in their own den?

A: “The fact that I was able to start against a very, very good team No.1-ranked United States was a very proud moment for me. Also, to record a 0-0 draw was another record. I am so proud that I was part of that match. We all know that the United States is a top team, a lot stronger than the Korean national team. Going into the match as an underdog and coming out with a result and eventually stopping their 22-match home winning streak was a very proud moment for me as a player. So, I am very proud and I am also very thankful that a lot of fans were able to witness such a great result on that day.”

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Q: Speaking about your goals now, you scored a brace against Myanmar in the Olympic qualifiers last year. How did it feel to score your first goals in the senior national team colours?

A: “Well, to score a brace in the game was a dream come true and I was really happy with the performance. I was not able to really live out that dream during the game. But after the game, I realized I scored those two goals and I was more determined to contribute to my team. It was really a kick start to my career and I wanted to keep getting better for the national team.”

Park has quickly developed into one of the most exciting talents amongst the next generation of Korean women's national team footballers. She first arrived on the scene during the Korea Republic's 2016 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup campaign in Papua New Guinea. 

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Q: Since you made your national team debut in 2019, what areas of the game has the whole experience helped you the most?

A: "Yeah, I spent two years with the national team now. It has been a big experience and something that I really wanted. It will take me to the next step. As for now, in order to interest the foreign clubs, I need to have this national team experience. My only goal is to keep playing with the national team and getting better. That’s the mindset I have and I hope that foreign clubs will watch me, watch my growth so that one day I can play in the foreign clubs.”

Despite making good progress in the last decade, the Korean women's national team is yet to win a major international trophy. They are currently ranked 18th in the world and fourth among Asian nations. The Taegeuk Nangja is all set to participate in the upcoming AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 and is aiming for it to be a memorable tournament on Indian soil. The team's best-ever performance so far has been a third-place finish in the 2003 edition.

Q: What are your personal goals for the upcoming AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India and do you think the national team can finally end their long drought for a major international trophy.

A: “My personal goal is to win the tournament. I want to participate in as many games as possible to contribute to the national team. Also, the team collectively is aiming to win the tournament. We’ve never done it before but we believe that the Korean national team is one of the strongest now in the Asian region. All of us are unified together to reach this goal.”
Domestically, Park Ye-eun is on the books of Gyeongju Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) in the WK League and has been a constant presence for the club in the domestic circuit. 

Q: You are in your fifth season as a professional footballer. What kind of goals do you have at the club level?

A: "We are of course aiming to be the champion and we are also one of the top-quality teams in the WK League. I believe we are still good enough to challenge for the championship. I think we are that kind of team."

Founded in 2017, Gyeongju KHNP has come mightily close to gaining Korean women's football supremacy on several occasions. Many of the team's players have caught the eye under Song Joo-hee as they finally look to end the hoodoo in the upcoming seasons.       

Q: Since 2018 there have been three finals between Gyeongju KHNP and Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels. Your team has lost all three of them but do you think Gyeongju is gradually closing in the gap with the league’s most dominant side?

A: "Of course, we are catching up every season. We have closed the gap pointwise as well. Also, we got some positive results in the league. Actually, we kind of were better than them in the league stage but the only thing we lacked was the experience of big matches of the championship. So, those are the things we are working on and I still believe we can become the champion.”

Lee Geum-min was the first Gyeongju KHNP player to take the big leap when she was snapped by Manchester City in August 2019. She currently plays for Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Women's Super League (WSL) with her former teammate Park Ye-eun hoping that she will earn a similar move soon.

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Q: When did you realize that you wanted to play in a foreign league?

A: "From the moment I played football, it was always my aim to play abroad. It is my dream to play abroad before I retire. Those dreams grew very strong since 2019 when I started playing in ‘A’ matches. I think to improve myself I need to play abroad and compete with top-quality opponents and play with top quality teammates. As I continue to play in the national team, that dream is growing very strong in recent times.”

The likes of Chelsea's Ji So-yun and Tottenham's Cho So-hyun are big names in English football right now. There are as many as four Korean women's national team players currently playing in the English top-flight with another Lee So-dam at NJ/NY Gotham FC in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) in the US. 

Q: Several of the national team players ply their trade abroad now. Has any of them given you any advice to play abroad?

A: "I have got a lot of advice from Ji So-yun. She’s telling me to play abroad when I am still young. She is motivating me to become a good player and she is telling me about the experience of playing abroad. Like the atmosphere in Europe. Not only me, but she is also encouraging every player in the national team to play abroad.”

Q: Who are your footballing heroes? Is there anybody’s style you wanted to copy?

A: “Andres Iniesta is my role model. I’ve been watching his videos from high school and I still watch his videos before the match. I think he’s a very smooth and smart player. I am still doing some research about his plays.”

Q: What is your secret to being able to manage your physical condition throughout a long season?

A: “Physicality wise, I try to make routines and I also manage my food what I eat. I check my physical qualities day by day. I think those come together and help deliver good performances. So, mentally as well I always try to work harder. I also watch a lot of motivational videos to keep that mentality. I think those are my secrets.”

Given her performances in the last couple of seasons, there are likely to be potential suitors for Park Ye-eun. She is now aiming to keep the good momentum going for the national team in the upcoming AFC Women's Asian Cup. 

Q: For any foreign clubs that might be interested, what would you say your biggest strengths are?

A: "I am very enthusiastic and highly determined. I always try to learn. There is a prejudice that Asian players are small and weak But I think those are not very important, I can still prove it. I am still young but when I am on the pitch I play like experienced players. So, I believe I am ready to play abroad. I am going to be the next Ji So-yun and am ready to carry on the baton and lead the Korean national team’s next generation.”   


Paul Neat & Shibajee Das            

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