Imagine being a soccer fan in South Korea.
You have your local sides such as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Seoul FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. But you prefer the higher quality leagues of Europe.
Your national team’s stars play there, including Heung Min-Son, Lee Jae-sung and Hwang Hee-chan. You dream of one day, seeing some of the world’s best play live.
Then, Italian champions Juventus are announced as the headline pre-season tournament side. You’d be pretty darn excited wouldn’t you?
Australian soccer fans would be over the moon if Juventus came Down Under for a few pre-season friendlies.
Understandably, you want tickets to see one of the greatest clubs in world football strut their stuff.
Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Giorgio Chiellini and Cristiano Ronaldo, just to name a few, will be kicking about in your own backyard.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Usually, this is where you’d see the phrase, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”
The only difference this time is that in this instance, it shouldn’t be.
We’ve seen international superstars play pre-season matches across the globe before. English clubs Arsenal, Manchester United and Leeds United sent strong squads to their respective tours.
Granted, younger and lesser-known players were given priority but these stars such as Paul Pogba, Mesut Ozil and Pablo Hernandez still played in front of fans who paid their dues.
Heck, even Real Madrid took new star signing Eden Hazard on their tour of the United States.
They understood and respected how far some fans go for their teams, and that some fans can’t travel to watch league or cup fixtures. They tried giving them lifelong memories.
Autographs, selfies and just the experience of having your heroes out there will do that for fans of these clubs.
Juventus, however and specifically Ronaldo, didn’t seem to care.
Not only was Ronaldo barely sighted during signing and photograph sessions with fans, he didn’t even play!
Imagine taking one the most highly decorated and talented footballers to a country filled with passionate soccer fans, for him to sit on the bench. That’s ludicrous enough.
Now imagine paying to see this match with the promise that he’d be out there playing. That’s where the line is drawn.
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) July 27, 2019
Understandably, fans are suing as a result of not getting what they were promised.
The event has gone from a harmless, pre-season friendly to a dumpster fire that the Italian giants have only themselves to blame.
What @juventusfc did
– Arrived in Korea 5 hours before the game
– C. Ronaldo didn't attended a fan meeting
– Arrived at the stadium after 8pm (kick-off time)
– The Game was delayed an hour
– C. Ronaldo didn't play (He has no injury)
– left the stadium without greeting crowds
— Korea Football News (@KORFootballNews) July 27, 2019
But this begs the question. Do some players genuinely care for their pre-season tours?
Combined with this Ronaldo incident, Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny refused to travel with the squad on the Gunners’ trip across the United States.
It is becoming increasingly commonplace in the elite world of soccer and only time will tell if it becomes an unfortunately commonality.
We understand that some players may not want to risk injury and that’s fine. Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea injured his Achilles tendon during a friendly match and is set for a huge stint on the sidelines.
He is one of many examples where a player jeopardises the side after an injury during a non-competitive fixture.
If clubs and/or the players themselves come out and say that they don’t want to risk injuries to their stars, that’s totally acceptable.
But don’t give fans hope for it to be taken away when they least expect it.
Imagine the uproar if Paul Pogba didn’t play any minutes for Manchester United in the Australian tour. Fans would be left feeling totally ripped off, right?
That’s how all South Korean soccer fans feel right now. Trust me, it’s not an enviable feeling.