United Heroes: Park Ji Sung - United's Forgotten Maestro
Emergence Onto The World Stage
Park Ji Sung has always been a living legend in his homeland of South Korea. A real ambassador for football in the Far East, it was his courageous exploits in the 2002 Japan and South Korea World Cup that helped land him a life-changing move to PSV Eindhoven with former boss Guus Hiddink.
As Manchester United fans would later come to see, Park established himself as one of the most consistent performers in this successful PSV side, often working tirelessly in the middle of the park and driving his team's pace and energy.
Contrary to what people might say regarding Park's transfer to Manchester United and the role it had in appealing to Asian markets and such, there was a genuinely talented player in Park Ji Sung that Sir Alex Ferguson saw and was excited to make use. With players such as Son Hueng Min now grabbing all the headlines in England, it's important to remember that Park was the real trend setter in terms of bringing Asian awareness to England, and wider Europe of course.
He would become the first Asian player to win the Premier and Champions League, and remains the most successful Asian player to date when going off trophies won over a career.
The Big Game Player
Park's first season in English football for the 2005/06 season was his most consistent in terms of appearances, and it saw an important leap of progression for Manchester United in terms of catching up with the behemoth that was Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. In the previous season, United had finished in their lowest ever finish under Sir Alex in 3rd (behind Chelsea and Arsenal), and had increasingly cut an aged, tired looking side.
Park Ji Sung in many ways represented the new direction that Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to bring to the side. The likes of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and even the legendary Roy Keane left the side around the time Park came in, and the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Anderson and Nani would quickly follow Park to this new look United side.
It's perhaps unsurprising to know that this United side would recover from its second place finish, and would go on to win three Premier League titles in a row (something no other team other than Manchester United has ever managed), with this new midfield proving to be vital for them.
Three Lungs Park
Over his seven year stay at Old Trafford, Park gained a reputation for being the 'big game player' of the Manchester United side. He might have only averaged around thirty appearances or so a season whilst in Manchester, but he was often the man Sir Alex Ferguson turned to when it came to the biggest points of the season.
He played the full ninety minutes in both legs of Manchester United's 2008 Champions League semifinal fixtures against Barcelona, and played both finals against the same opposition in 2009 and 2011.
Park garnered a reputation for being utilised by Ferguson for taking on and shutting down an opposing team's best players. One particularly infamous example of this, that still lives on with the United faithful even now, came against AC Milan in 2010. Park produced one of the most dedicated and hardworking performances in United history, shutting down the mighty Andrea Pirlo across both legs and ensuring United progressed to the next round.
It was a performance that didn't grab the headlines, didn't make him seem like a world beater or anything, but it was an invaluable performance that undoubtedly relieved a lot of Ferguson's worries.
No biography of Ji Sung Park would be complete without mentioning his demolition performances against Arsenal. From Champions League semi finals at the Emirates, to 8-2 hammerings at Old Trafford, it's one of football's strangest phenomenons that Park always seemed to find the net against the Gunners.
We can probably put it down to Arsenal's possession-based way of playing, and Park's ability to win the ball back and drive the team forward to create a dangerous counter attack for this recurrence.
A True Great
Park Ji Sung should always be regarded as a Manchester United great, and a Manchester United legend. He was an instrumental cog in one of the team's greatest ever periods, and proved to be one of the most dependable and consistent players in the side, even when up against the best of the best in the world.
His tireless work ethic and dedication to the team allowed the great flair-based players in the side to really let loose and show the world what they could do. It might be a bit of a leaping statement, but who knows where half of the 'great' United players of the time would be without the exploits of Ji Sung Park in some of those crunch, tight matches.
Sir Alex Ferguson recently cited Park's omission from the 2008 Champions League Final as his "one regret" in one football and, in all honesty, praise can't come much higher than that.