JI DONG-WON has time on his hands to progress following a difficult first season in English football.
That’s the verdict of Sunderland team-mate Phil Bardsley as Ji prepares to lead the line for South Korea in tonight’s friendly against world champions Spain.
Ji was restricted to a fringe role with the Black Cats last season after his £2million switch from Korean outfit Chunnam Dragons a year ago.
The 21-year-old made just two appearances in the starting XI, with the first of those under Martin O’Neill not arriving until the penultimate game of the season at Fulham.
With O’Neill ready to strengthen his forward options this summer, the Black Cats boss could look more favourably towards any loan interest in the striker, who produced the highlight of his Sunderland career with the winner in the New Year’s Day victory over Manchester City.
But Bardsley believes it was always going to be difficult for Ji to adjust to the Premier League in his maiden season on Wearside after making such a seismic leap in his career.
Bardsley told the Echo: “Ji is only a young boy and he’s a long way from home.
“It’s difficult to settle. I’m sure he’d like to have played more football than he has.
“But he’s worked hard in training and got himself a deserved start at Fulham, where I thought he was pretty bright at times.
“It takes time to get used to the physical side of things for the Asian players when they come over here, and it’s the same for the South Americans.
“They all adapt differently.
“For Ji, the big plus point is he’s a young lad.
“He’s got a lot to learn, but time is on his side.”
Ji will continue his education in Switzerland tonight, as Korea take on Spain in the penultimate warm-up game for the World and European Champions prior to Euro 2012.
Reports in the Korean press suggest Ji will be handed a start as the lone striker for the Taegeuk Warriors, with Arsenal forward Park Chu-Young currently in dispute with the national team.
An impressive outing for Ji could see him included in the squad for the summer’s Olympics, although that could hamper Sunderland commercially when they head to Korea for their pre-season tour.
The Black Cats are one of three European outfits featuring at the Peace Cup, to be held in South Korea, in July – a competition which potentially clashes with any pre-Olympic training camp for the Korean side.
Meanwhile, Sunderland have been credited with an interest in Manchester City striker John Guidetti, as O’Neill looks to boost his meagre striking options.
Guidetti was in prolific form during a season-long loan with Feyenoord this campaign, notching 20 goals in 23 games for the Dutch outfit.
O’Neill had watched Feyenoord in action towards the end of the campaign, although it is unclear whether Guidetti was the subject of his scouting mission.
Sunderland are pursuing a wide-range of forward options though, with Wolves hitman Steven Fletcher one of O’Neill’s principal targets.