'The sexiest footballer in the world' Cho Gue-sung: 'Now they chase me through the streets in Korea'


There can't be many footballers who have gone from playing on a military team to being on the cover of Vogue in a few months.

But that's just one of the ways South Korean forward Cho Gue-sung's life has changed in the last year.

Last year was decent for Cho. He joined Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, one of Korea's top teams, in 2020, but it took him a while to recover. He had been a defensive midfielder until just a few years ago, moving forward to better take advantage of his 188 cm (6 ft 2 in) height and pace, but he was still relatively young in the position.

As Korean players sometimes do, he used his mandatory period of military service as a reset and to help improve his physical condition. He joined Gimcheon Sangmu, a team made up of players in military service who at the time was in the second division, on loan from Jeonbuk, where he rediscovered his form and started scoring goals again, which helped them to win the promotion.

He also earned a call-up to the national team and, in the second half of the year, returned to his parent club, finishing as K League 1's joint top scorer (on the same level as Joo Min-kyu) and establishing himself as one of South Korea's main attacking options as the World Cup in Qatar approached.

Cho in action at last year's World Cup (Khalil Bashar/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Even then, however, he was relatively low-key: “insignificant,” in his own words, known mainly to Korean soccer fans but not to many others.

But then the World Cup came and everything was different.

“There have been so many changes in the last year,” says Cho, 25. The Athletic now, employing considerable underestimation. “But I've enjoyed them.”

In Qatar, Cho entered the South Korean team for their second match, against Ghana, and scored two goals despite his team losing 3-2. But it was during the first game against Uruguay – in which he only played 16 minutes as a substitute – when the madness began.

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It was then that people began to notice that she was, for lack of a better phrase, very sexy. Photos of him sitting on the sidelines and warming up quickly circulated on social media, showing that if the Internet is used for nothing else, it is for spreading images of very attractive people.

TikTok was flooded with clips celebrating her beauty, videos of Cho doing things as outrageously daring as walking down the side of a football field and sitting with her arms crossed. It didn't seem to matter what he was doing; The Internet seemed to find even his most banal activities devastatingly sexy.

Before the tournament, he had about 20,000 followers on Instagram. That number skyrocketed to about 1.6 million during the World Cup and peaked at about 2.7 million afterward. It didn't seem to matter that he barely posted about it; Any image of her broad shoulders and sharp cheekbones was worth pursuing.

Cho at a Louis Vuitton show in January (Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)

The story was that he had to turn off his phone for most of the tournament because dealing with notifications had become a full-time job, although Cho downplays that. “It's been a bit of a stretch,” he says. “I already turned off my notifications (before the World Cup) so I can focus on the tournament.”

There was a danger that her sudden celebrity and sex symbol status could interfere with her concentration, but Cho says the only pressure was self-imposed.

“There were no obstacles during the World Cup. I only focused on football. Normally I don't mind people's high expectations, but I put a lot of pressure on myself, which became a burden.”

Cho further endeared himself to the crowd by forcefully berating Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo for not leaving the field quickly enough when he was substituted in their final group match.

South Korea made it through the groups, but was eliminated in the round of 16, losing 4-1 to Brazil. His World Cup was over, but things were just beginning for Cho.

He became the fifth man and second athlete to appear on the cover of Vogue Korea, photographed in black and white in a bad mood, holding a soccer ball but carelessly forgetting to put on a shirt. His celebrity skyrocketed.

He was sought out for television appearances, as a guest on a Korean show called I Live Alone, which is designed to go behind the scenes of a celebrity's life and is apparently not as grim as the title suggests, and also on the popular You quiz show. Try on the block.

He reached the level of celebrity where his personal grooming choices caused quite a stir. In September, photographs of her hair in braids sparked a long debate on the Internet. A survey voted him the second most desirable Korean male celebrity, behind only actor Song Kang. And of course, speculation about his personal life became rampant, with a rise in stories linking him to a variety of models and celebrities during and after the World Cup.

Cho seemed to deal with all of this relatively well, although she occasionally found it quite alarming. South Korea played a couple of matches in the United Kingdom in September, and could not escape the attention there either.

“Since I became more famous, many people have recognized me. People even recognized me when I traveled to London with the national team; “That was really surprising.”

The forward celebrates the goal against Ghana in the World Cup (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It's not all that surprising that he's seen at home, but it seems like he's “causing a little disturbance on the turf of a local coffee shop,” even as he tries to leave in disguise. “When I go back to Korea, I wear a hat and mask, but people still recognize me,” he says. “One time, people started chasing me down the street. “That was crazy.”

Thirsty members of the public weren't the only ones chasing him. After his goals with Jeonbuk and his performances in Qatar, offers came from people who wanted him for his goals more than his appearance.

Cho, however, took his time. “In the winter transfer market there were many offers from many different clubs, but I waited until the summer. There were several unofficial offers, from England and Scotland. But once I made my decision, I stuck to it.”

Leicester City, Watford and Celtic were said to be among the many teams interested, but in the end he made the perhaps slightly surprising decision to sign for Midtjylland in Denmark, who signed him for a relatively modest £2.6 million ($3 .27 million). .

It's tempting to wonder if he chose Denmark because, after his explosion of celebrity and his inability to walk down the street without causing an incident at home, he's a little more underrated in terms of attention.

However, he says that was not a factor. “I wasn't afraid of media attention, but I just wanted to focus on football. I wanted a club where I started every game. I was sure Midtjylland could offer me that. Midtjylland was the most interested, that's why I chose them.”

Luckily, you know some people who have been through similar situations and can offer you advice on how to deal with sudden fame. Regardless of how well-known Cho becomes due to his appearance, it is unlikely that he will reach the godlike status of his international captain Son Heung-min.

Cho has also benefited from a mentor: another compatriot who became an icon in South Korea and faced the delicate decision of choosing the right club when he moved to Europe.

“Park Ji-sung is a director of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, my old club,” says Cho. “He didn't give me advice on how to deal with fame, but he gave me a lot of advice on how to move to Europe and how to build a new life there. He told me that he should choose a team that he knew he would play for, because that is what he did when he moved to PSV Eindhoven.”

It seems that Cho made the right decision. Midtjylland leads the Danish Superliga in its winter break and has eight goals in 16 league games.

Who knows if his football achievements will ever match his levels of fame, but Cho doesn't seem to be thinking about it too much.

“I consider how I lead my daily life and am happy now, rather than looking into the future. I don't think about that yet.”

(Top photo: Eric Verhoeven/Socrates/Getty Images)

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