Cha Du-Ri’s life in the fast lane


The German-born South Korean footballer is Finnair’s ambassador for the fastest route between Europe and Asia.

"My strength is in speed and stamina,” says professional footballer Cha Du-Ri, 31, when asked why his nicknames include “Autobahn” and “The Human Weapon.” The versatile, tall player currently plays for Scottish Premier League club Celtic as a defender. He is also the first Korean player born outside of Korea to have represented the country in the FIFA World Cup. 

Cha, who travels frequently between Europe and Korea, is also part of Finnair’s award-winning Local Hero campaign. Other Local Heroes have included violinist Min Lee, football legend Pierre Littbarski, conductor Henry Shek and other artists and sport stars.

“Cha’s image in Europe as a famous South Korean player aligns well with Finnair as an airline that connects Europe and Asia fast and conveniently,” says Jan Skutnabb, previously the head of Finnair sales in Korea - from March 2012 Finnair Cargo's Area Director for South East Asia.

“World-famous celebrities and public figures are presented as Local Heroes in each country. I am very proud and honoured to be the one in Korea,” says Cha.

A family legacy of football

Cha’s father, Cha Bum-Kun, played in the 1986 World Cup and was South Korea’s first-ever football export. Widely regarded as one of the Bundesliga’s finest strikers, he won the UEFA Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt in 1980. The historic win happened weeks before the younger Cha was born in Frankfurt.

“My father is my hero,” says Cha. “It would be a challenge for anyone to overcome their father’s achievements. There have been great expectations from people around me. But it wasn’t so different from what others may have felt during their teenage years: while others were stressing about getting good grades, I was stressing about being a good player.”

In the early 2000s, after making his debut in South Korea's national team, Cha was noticed by influential Dutch football manager and then-coach Guus Hiddink. He started his club career with Bayer Leverkusen, Arminia Bielefeld and Eintracht Frankfurt, his father’s alma mater. In July 2010 he made his Celtic debut in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round against Braga. During the third-place match of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup against Uzbekistan, Cha captained the national team in place of Park Ji Sung.

A professional globetrotter

Cha logs thousands of air miles annually. “The best thing about Finnair is its cleanliness, and the kind onboard service,” he says, adding that his parents also frequently fly with Finnair.

Cha will travel back to Korea when the Scottish league finishes in May. “That’s the most relaxing time of the year,” he says. 

Cha and his wife Shin Hye-Sung have a two-year-old daughter and a baby boy, neither of whom is old enough to be introduced to football. “My son is only nine months old, but if he’s talented and wants to play, I’m more than willing to help.”

Cha’s two-year contract with Celtic ends in July. As for his next play, he says that there are various possibilities. “Considering my age, I’m in a position to put some serious thought into finishing my career and moving onto the next chapter of my life. It’s never easy to make such a big decision.”

Published February 21, 2012

Category: Collaboration, Local features