“The pride of Asia” PARK Ji Sung’s next step is concealed in his heart
April 2nd, in the Champions League quarter final between AS Roma and Manchester United FW Rooney scored thanks to an assist from PARK Ji Sung (left).
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PARK Ji Sung wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the pitch during the UEFA Champion’s League final. PARK Ji Sung was born and raised in Korea Rep, his professional career started in Japan, he played in Holland before becoming a regular with English mega-club, Manchester United. He is currently known as “the pride of Asia” and the fact that his name was not on the squad list for the match which Manchester won on penalties over Chelsea, to become European champions for the first time in 9 years, did not discourage his Korean fans in the slightest.
No Asian player has ever stood on the stage of a UEFA Champions League final and it would have been a huge moment for Korea Rep and all of East Asia had he played.
He had played full matches in their previous 4 Champions League outings including the quarter finals versus AS Roma and the semis versus FC Barcelona. Continuing on from being selected in those important matches it appeared that he would surely be selected for the final, the Korean fans were shocked and the English media headlines read “PARK Ji Sung left out of the final, Asia feels betrayed”.
But no such harsh words could be coming from the mouth of PARK Ji Sung himself. He talks of having always valued the team’s performance over any individual glory gladly saying “I am completely satisfied because my team won the league title and the Champions League. Personally I am happy to have recovered this season from a long term injury.”
In fact the real value of this season (2007-08) should be measured for PARK Ji Sung.
He left the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven on a transfer to Manchester United in July 2005 at the peak of his performances there. In his first season (2005-06) in the Premier League he recorded 34 appearances and scored 1 goal and got 6 assists. But he hurt his left ankle ligaments almost as soon as his second season (2006-07) started and was out for 99 days, then in March he hurt his right knee and underwent an operation in April. He was on crutches as his teammates celebrated their first league title in 4 years and following that he went down the long road of rehabilitation.
He finally returned to the pitch on the 26th of December 2007 against Sunderland. But he had been out for 9 months and now found himself in a battle with Ryan Giggs (Welsh international) and Nani (Portugal international) for his position, and for a lot of the time soon after his return he was a substitute or a bench warmer or not even in the squad and watched the match from the stands. Around that time there was a lot of “PARK Ji Sung is irrelevant” sentiment and even many of the Korean fans were of the opinion that “he doesn't get enough chances to play, he should leave Manchester”.
However this youngster, who never gives up, kept training hard and his sweat and perseverance earned him more and more chances. “To me now, it doesn't matter so much whether I start or come on as a substitute. The team changes for tactical reasons based on who we’re playing so that can be the reason someone else is selected ahead of me. We have so many great players at Manchester United but if you prepare properly you will get your opportunity”.
Then on March 1st he had a full start and scored his first goal since returning from injury, in April was AS Roma (Italy) in the Champion’s League quarter finals before FC Barcelona in the semis made it four straight starts and full matches in a row. He started again in the season’s final round match versus Wigan in which they clinched their first league title for 2 seasons.
That contribution can best be shown by the figures. 11 wins, 0 losses, 1 draw. In 2008, Manchester United never lost a match in which PARK Ji Sung started, That fact came out from the many statistics produced by UEFA during their 2nd round semi final versus FC Barcelona.
April 29th, the Champions League semi-final versus FC Barcelona. PARK Ji Sung takes on Argentina DF Milito (right).
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According to UEFA’s figures for total distance covered by players from each team, PARK Ji Sung ran 11.962 kilometers in 90 minutes. That was higher than the average for Manchester United’s players (11.022) and exceeded any of their opposition’s distance covered.
But it is not just the amount of running he does. As he covers the entire pitch he is always contributing to both defense and attack. He looks for space and makes runs into it as well as working off the ball to create space for others. He is fast as well as technically very good so it is not just that he is blessed with a lot of energy it is more that he has “high quality movement” that creates a lot of chances and likewise saves his team in tight situations.
The local media have also praised this self-sacrificing running. With comments such as “Physical ability that defies common sense” (Manchester Evening News), “PARK Ji Sung isn’t just a workhorse, he has become a thoroughbred” (Daily Mail), “He has gathered supporters not because of his excellent skills but due to the fact he covers every inch of the pitch” (The Sun). PARK Ji Sung has established his value through his unbeatable workload and high quality movement. The evidence that his team now trust him was displayed by selecting him to play in the huge matches on the road to them claiming both the Premier league and Champions League titles.
So it was disappointing to not see him play on the stage of the UEFA Champions League final. “Owen Hargreaves was in good form so I had no choice but to drop PARK Ji Sung” (Alex Ferguson, coach) was the reason given but the fact he was completely left off the bench as well was described as “cold” and “merciless” by the Korea Rep media. On the other hand, PARK Ji Sung having returned home to Korea Rep after a long season is hiding the sadness of not playing the final in his heart along with his next step.
“As a player it’s disappointing to have not played in the final, but I’m sure the manager’s choice was a difficult one. I’m sorry to all of those that had been expecting to watch me. But I believe I will get another opportunity. To ensure that happens I will continue to work hard.”
It is a modest and humble response very much in his nature but those words also show the heart of an achiever who looks forward to the next challenge. As well as staying at winners Manchester United, he also made his intention very clear to fight to become a regular starter.
“I don’t pay attention to other players. When I’m on the pitch I give everything I have, it’s important to earn trust. I will continue working hard to earn that trust. I may be a long way from being called the best player in the world but I want to work to make that a reality some day.”
PARK Ji Sung has now gathered not just the attention of his home country Korea Rep but fans from throughout the whole of Asia. The challenge continues for him to reach the day when he goes from “the pride of Asia” to “the world star”.
MF PARK Ji Sung was born on the 25th of February 1981 in Korea Rep. After graduating from university he chose to play for Kyoto Purple Sanga (now Kyoto Sanga FC) in Japan’s J-League rather than his home country’s K-League, making his professional debut in 2000. He was soon turning heads and in 2002 he was transferred to Dutch giants, PSV. He moved to English mega-club Manchester United in 2005 and is still there today. He is a core member of the Korea Rep national team and played at the FIFA 2002 World Cup Japan Korea and the FIFA 2006 World Cup Germany. He is 175cm and 72 kg.
Text＝SHIN Mu Koeng/Pitch communications