Joo Min-kyu of Jeju United speaks at a press conference during the club's training camp in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Wednesday, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (KPFL)
SEOGWIPO -- One of the great mysteries in South Korean football in recent months has been the continued absence of Jeju United striker Joo Min-kyu on the senior men's national team.
Though he won the scoring title in the top-flight K League 1 last year with 22 goals in 34 matches, Joo has been consistently overlooked by national team head coach Paulo Bento. The Portuguese boss has sidestepped questions about not picking Joo on multiple occasions, saying he doesn't just look at a player's goal totals and he makes his selections based on players' potential fit into his system.
It's obviously the coach's prerogative to make roster decisions. However, Bento's decision not to put Joo on his 26-man training camp roster this month, even without any of the Europe-based stars available due to club commitments, may be the biggest head-scratcher so far.
But the way Joo sees it, there's nothing mysterious about that.
"Some good players have been chosen, and I think I was left off because I wasn't good enough," Joo told reporters Wednesday at a press conference during Jeju's training camp in Seogwipo, Jeju Island. "I will be picked if I play better. I have to be better and try harder."
That's a healthy dose of humility from the 31-year-old, who became the first South Korean player to lead the K League 1 in scoring in five years.
And Joo doesn't want to stop.
"No Korean player has ever won back-to-back scoring titles, and if I can become the first one, it will help me grow that much more as a player," Joo said. "It is a great source of motivation for me."
Joo's pursuit of his second scoring title should be boosted by the addition of Yoon Bitgaram, one of the league's top playmaking midfielders.
"We all know what a great passer he is," Joo said of his friend. "If he can pick up about 20 assists, I should be able to lead the league in goals again."
In the meantime, playing for the country remains a major career goal, too
"Everyone wants to make the national team at some point," Joo said. "I have not given up on that dream yet." (Yonhap)