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Latest update : 2008-09-29

A Swiss football club has become the first Western European side to hire players from North Korea. Concordia Basel has locked up an exclusive contract for North Korea’s football talent – but is there any?

A Swiss second-division team, Concordia Basel, has become the first Western European football team to hire North Korean players.


Two 19-year-olds, Pak Chol Ryong (on left in photo above) and Kuk Jin Kim (right), joined the team last week after travelling to Switzerland from the isolated communist state. 


“It’s been going well so far,” Concordia’s sporting director Angelo Korti told FRANCE 24, “the pair were able to meet the other players at training and talk to them in English.”  They’re planning to learn German, he added.


During their first training session, local journalists were able to put questions to the players but stuck to neutral topics such as whether the players liked Switzerland and Swiss food.


Members of the press noted that the questions were answered by the players’ official North Korean minder, who came with the players as part of the deal. Oh Il Son, a one-time international referee, will live with the players and will also interpret for them.


Details of their pay packet have not been made public, but their deals took two years to broker.


This begs the question: why bother?  Does the world need North Korea’s football talent?


The last time the national side qualified for the World Cup was in 1966, though they’re doing OK in qualifying rounds for the 2010 competition, at the top of their group after beating the United Arab Emirates and drawing against their historical enemy South Korea. And youngsters Pak and Kuk were in a team that made it to the quarter-finals of the under-17 competition in 2005.


Concordia Basel is evidently hoping that Pak and Kuk will be the first of many players from the reclusive state. Speaking to the Basler Zeitung newspaper, the Swiss team’s president Stephan Glaser said he’d secured the European transfer and marketing rights to all footballers from North Korea. 


The North Korean authorities “expect us to treat their players with care.  They don’t want hundreds of agents around them,” he said.


Glaser met with the North Korean sports minister in June, and said winning the trust of the authorities was crucial to the deal.


He said he did not expect to make a profit off of signing Pak and Kuk to Concordia – only if the club eventually sells the players on.  In the meantime, backroom staff at the Rankhof stadium hope they’ll be significant additions to the team, currently lying in 10th place out of 16. 


Date created : 2008-09-29