When the club you’re supporting is largely regarded as a top address in European football, you will be forgiven for not jumping up and down in joy after reading your club has just signed a 28-year-old from a middling side as a backup. On first blush, the arrival of Park Joo-ho from Mainz (read about it in our news section) is hardly exciting news for supporters of die Schwarzgelben.
They might consider signing a left back nothing more than a necessity after Thomas Tuchel made it known he didn’t think Jeremy Dudziak was a defender, which led to the sale of Dudziak to St. Pauli. Since Erik Durm, who has backed up Marcel Schmelzer the last couple of years, is out indefinitely with an unknown knee injury (not to mention he’s much better on his more natural right side anyway), the need to sign someone for the left back position was very much apparent.
Enter Park Joo-ho, a somewhat cheap and widely unknown player, who will without doubt be labeled as a “too old backup” by uninformed supporters hiding in the anonymity of the world wide web. If you take a closer look, however, you will find a player that has the potential to be one of sporting director Michael Zorc’s shrewdest signings yet.
The 28-year-old South Korea international played one of his two Bundesliga seasons under BVB head coach Thomas Tuchel for Mainz. Tuchel spoke at length at various occasions over the summer how one big challenge for him at his new club was getting to know all the players, dealing with their personalities and finding out how they can be best animated to perform to their abilities. With Park, Tuchel already knows these things. Both player and coach have, one would assume, because otherwise neither one of the two would be pushing for a reunion in Dortmund, a level of comfort with one another. Tuchel knows how to manage Park – Park knows how to play under Tuchel. That alone should provide the grounds for a seamless integration of the new signing into the squad.
Park is expected to mostly be Schmelzer’s backup at the left back position. He does, however, have a lot of positional flexibility. In his 27 Bundesliga games under Tuchel in the 2013/14 season, Park played in four positions: left-back, left midfielder, defensive midfielder, and (oddly enough) one game against Hoffenheim on the right side of the attack. He played the whole AFC Asian in January for South Korea as a starter in midfield. Rene Maric of spielverlagerung.de (follow him on twitter here) thinks he could even play as a defender in a Dreierkette (3-at-the-back).
As Thomas Tuchel said in a press conference this week, he doesn’t think Borussia needs a “specialist” to back up every position. Park’s versatility will come in handy and should provide his coach with more options as he tries to balance the squad throughout a stressful season.
If those arguments still have you wonder why exactly Borussia would sign Park and not someone else, someone younger, someone more exciting, maybe this will: Park Joo-ho is a very, very good player.
Like most players from Asia who make it in Europe, he’s physically strong. While not a speedster, he’s dynamic enough to play up and down the wing, although he’s not that classic fullback who sprints and crosses the ball into the box a lot. His game is more nuanced than that.
He’s an accurate passer, as evidenced by his 92% pass completion rate in his single Bundesliga game this season against Gladbach last Sunday.
He’s technically sound and very seldom gives the ball away, rarely losing possession which is crucial especially for the “new” BVB under Tuchel, where dominance on the ball is key.
When playing in midfield, he has a good eye for situations, knows when to hold the ball, when to drive it, when and where to pass it.
“4-1-4-1? 4-3-1-2? Holding mid or CM? Park can do it all. Asia’s answer to Phillipp Lahm is here.”
Rene Maric in this insightful piece on Park for spielverlagerung.de
While we’ve highlighted his flexibility and positional versatility, chances are Park Joo-ho will predominantly play as Marcel Schmelzer’s backup. When you consider the fact that Schmelzer, who’s had a terrific start to the season, has only played 19 and 22 games respectively in the Bundesliga in the last two seasons, because of various injury problems, Park should get a good number of games. If not to replace an injured Schmelzer, then to give him a breather according to Tuchel’s idea of Belastungssteuerung, which we tried to explain here.
Schmelzer’s resurgence to the kind of form that made him one of the world’s best at his position has a lot to do with the way Tuchel employs his fullbacks. They get the ball later in the attacking moves, since the build up play is mostly in the hands of the centre-backs and defensive/central midfielders. They get to position themselves higher up the pitch, which in turn makes their time on the ball shorter and allows them to be more dynamic.
Schmelzer, much maligned for inaccurate crossing over the years, has already assisted three goals in seven competitive matches this season – compared to just two assists over the entire last season. Not only has his crossing improved, he also uses driving back passes from closer to the goal line to pick out attacking players who are difficult to cover for the defence.
Park Joo-ho is well equipped to do the same whenever called upon. For around 3 million Euro, that’s a bargain.