South Korea’s most decorated footballer has for years been seen as a mere fringe player in a world class Manchester United side – but he has scored some of the most crucial goals in their recent history and is always vital in big matches against the top teams.
His most recent heroics were in the Champion’s League quarter final, as Manchester United defeated Chelsea 3-1 on aggregate. He helped secure this victory with the second crucial goal in the second leg for a 2-1 win, a mere 26 seconds after Chelsea equalised – thus destroying their momentum and somewhat securing the tie for United.
This is a perfect example of Park Ji-Sung as a player. He is rarely deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson on a weekly basis, but Ferguson has said many times how Park becomes a world class player when it comes to big games. You will often find the 5ft 10 inch midfield maestro occupying the left wing spot in games against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona where he simply comes to life.
In 114 appearances for United, he has scored only 16 goals; but how important have these goals been? He earned a point for the Red Devil’s against Chelsea in the 2008/9 season, a year where they won the title ahead of the Blues. He scored against Arsenal to get Manchester United to the Champions League final in the same season then becoming the first Asian player to ever appear in a final in the competition. It is not only his goals which are why he is such an important player in big games. He was Man of the Match in the semi-final of the Champions League after United beat Barcelona in 08/09 as well as supplying an assist to Wayne Rooney in the quarter finals against Roma in the same tournament. These are only a few examples of many accolades to Park’s already world famous name, a name which is not forever present on Ferguson’s first eleven team sheet.
At only the age of 30, Park has retired from South Korean international football after the 2011 Asian Cup, surrendering his captaincy in his 100th and final game for his international side. This gives him more time and dedication to his career at Manchester United, one which is advancing more and more as seasons go on. At wages estimated at £65,000, he is devoted to becoming a legend in his own right at the club. He was quoted as saying: “I have no reason to move. I play at the best club in the world” which, despite not playing every week, is enough to explain his attitude as a player. He is willing, hard-working and loyal – reflecting his ability on the pitch which is always the same in every game he plays, hence why he is so useful in the big matches where a fast, strong player like him becomes so vital to any team.
Rio Ferdinand recently spoke out about Park and his incredible performances. Following United’s 3-1 win over Chelsea in their Champions League Quarter Final this season, he said: “The lads in the changing room sometimes sit there and laugh at the amount of work that Ji gets through because it is just ridiculous,” Ferdinand told the Manchester Evening News.
“We just want to know what he eats pre-match and at home. He must have a different diet to all of us because the way he runs and the energy he has got is phenomenal.
“It is great to see and have as a part of your team. He is definitely an unsung hero.
“Ji scores goals in big games. The manager just seems to pick him all the time in the big games and he just delivers. He doesn’t get all the headlines but he is appreciated by his team-mates.”
This statement from Ferdinand about Park is enough to summarise the player in all his glory. A true star in all the biggest games, but an unsung hero that rarely gets the headlines where they certainly are deserved. His energy and monumental influence in every match he plays is enough to earn him a place in the record books for his own country and now Park is well on his way to becoming a potential superstar at Manchester United. Will he one day become a week-in week-out superstar? Or remain that legend that pops up in the most vital moments like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Only time will tell, but at the moment, Park is a crucial part of the United squad and certainly is their vital assassin.