097. Cha Bum-Kun
Undoubtedly one of Asia’s greatest ever players, South Korean striker Cha Bum-Kun is one of the few Asian players ever to make an impact at the top level of European club football. He enjoyed a long career in club football in Germany as well as a fine international career and went on to a coaching career at both club and international level.
Cha’s club career started out in Korea with the Air Force Club, and in 1972 he made his international debut at the age of 18, the youngest ever international for South Korea. His debut came in the Asian Cup in Thailand, where he played five games as South Korea finished as runners-up. His performances in Korea attracted the attention of European clubs and in 1978 Cha moved to West Germany to join SV Darmstadt 98. His move to Europe seemed to mark the end of his international career after already a Korean record 118 caps.
Playing only one league game for Darmstadt, Cha moved on to Eintracht Frankfurt a year later and in his first season with the club helped the team to win the U.E.F.A. Cup. Further success followed in the West German Cup in 1981, and Cha became one of the most popular players at the club. He made more than 100 appearances for Eintracht before moving on to Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 1983.
In 1985, South Korea qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1954, and Cha came out of international retirement to appear in the finals. He played in all three games, against eventual champions Argentina, reigning champions Italy and Bulgaria, but could not prevent South Korea going out in the first round. His playing career continued for three more years, and he won a second U.E.F.A. Cup in 1988, his only major honour with Leverkusen.
Having retired from playing, Cha’s coaching career began in 1990 with Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i, where he remained for four years. In 1997 he was named national coach and took South Korea to the 1998 World Cup finals, but they were defeated in their first two games in France and Cha was fired before their final match. After a short spell coaching in China with Shenzhen, he moved into media work but returned to coaching in 2004 with Suwon Samsung Bluewings, who he led to the K-League title in his first season.
Cha’s son, Cha Du-Ri, is also a South Korean international and he was part of the team which reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup Finals in South Africa in 2010.