Ultimate United Articles
Park Ji-sung Heroes, Villains & Legends
Ahead of the Manchester United vs Barcelona Legends match, we look at the career of one of the players lining up for the Red Devils, Park Ji-sung.
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
It is hard to believe that it’s just five years ago that Park Ji-sung left Manchester United. The club has changed so much in that time, as has the game in general, that it feels a lot longer than that. Park was the first, and so far, only South Korean player to represent United. The energetic midfielder was nicknamed “three lung park” due to his seemingly endless reserves of stamina, and tireless running.
When United first signed Park in 2005, Malcolm Glazer had just completed his controversial takeover of the club. There was a theory that the Korean midfielder was bought as merely a marketing tool, in order to raise the club’s profile in Asia. It didn’t take long, however, for Park to prove his doubters wrong. He quickly became a fans favourite, a player the Streford End really took to their hearts.
Park Ji-Sung was born in 1981 in Goeheung, a small county in the southwest of South Korea. He did not actually join a professional club until he was almost 19, after practically every Korean club he took a trial for told him he was too small to be a footballer. As a result, he ended up making his full international debut while playing for Myongji University. This was the start of his professional career, but not in his home country. Japanese side Kyoto Purple Sanga offered him a contract during his second year at university.
Park was a big hit in Japan, as his new side won the J2 League in 2001, and the Emporer’s Cup the following year. By now he was an established member of the South Korea national team, who would not only be co-hosts of the upcoming World Cup, but exceed everybody’s expectations.
Park scored a fantastic goal against Portugal, which ensured his side progressed to the knockout stages, when he chested down the ball before volleying it through the legs of Vítor Baía. He also scored one of the penalties in the shootout against Spain, which saw South Korea become the first Asian side to reach the World Cup semi-finals. The tournament also provided a glimpse of what was to come, as scoring vital goals in big games would become a big feature of Park’s career.
Park’s international manager Guus Hiddink returned to PSV Eindhoven, after guiding South Korea to 4th place at the World Cup. In January 2003 he took Park, along with his international team mate Lee Young-pyo to the Eredivisie. Although Park initially struggled with injuries, he became a title winner in his first half-season.
Over the next two seasons, Park would be a crucial part of the side, and won a league and cup double in 2004-05. Always a man for the big occasion, he scored his sides’ third goal in the KNVB Cup final, a 4-0 win over Willem II. It was a big year for PSV, as they came within a whisker of facing Liverpool in Istanbul, losing the semi-final to AC Milan on away goals. Park had scored the first goal in a 3-1 victory in the home leg, but a 2-0 defeat in the San Siro put paid to their dreams of the treble.
Predictably, as is always the case when a player shines in somewhere like the Dutch league, Park had begun to attract the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. He had scored 11 goals that season, and provided plenty of assists. It was inevitable that PSV wouldn’t be able to hold onto their prized asset much longer.
In the summer of 2005, Sir Alex Ferguson paid £4 million to bring Park Ji-sung to Old Trafford. He soon became popular with the United fans, who always appreciate someone who puts in the effort that Park did. By the time he scored his first goal for the club, away to Birmingham City in the League Cup, he had already assisted several goals for Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy. He would later start in the final to pick up the first trophy of his United career. Towards the end of the season, he scored his first Premier League goal against the side he would always seem to notch against; Arsenal.
In 2006-07, Park found himself limited in terms of playing time as there was much sterner competition for places. The previous season had seen Roy Keane famously leave under a cloud, Paul Scholes miss most of the season with a mysterious eye condition, and Alan Smith break his leg. This had meant that Park had ended the season as one of the first names on the team sheet, mainly because there hadn’t been many alternatives.
Ferguson had gone three years without winning the title, and faced his sternest test yet in a Chelsea side managed by José Mourinho, and bankrolled by Roman Abramovich. He brought in Michael Carrick from Tottenham, and having Scholes return to the side meant that competition for places was fierce, as those two started pretty much every week, and stayed injury free. There was also Darren Fletcher to compete with. Park, meanwhile, was not so fortunate, with a long standing knee problem also restricting his appearances.
United regained the Premier League title, but Park had played just 20 times in all competitions, but still managed five goals. The highlight for his season would be scoring twice in the 4-1 win at home to Bolton. He also assisted United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s last ever goal for the club, against Blackburn Rovers, after scoring himself earlier in the game.
The summer of 2007 was a testing one for Park, as he travelled to America for surgery on his long term knee injury. While he was out, United signed two midfielders in Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, both of whom made an immediate impact on the side. Park did not make his comeback until the end of December.
His only goal of the 2007-08 season came in a 3-0 win over Fulham. Towards the end of the campaign, Park really hit his stride. His performances in Europe, most notably in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona won him many admirers..
On May 21st 2008, Ferguson made what he later called one of the hardest managerial decisions he ever made. He dropped Park ji-Sung from the match day squad to face Chelsea in the Champions League Final in Moscow, which United won on penalties. Although Park received a medal, it must have felt like a hollow victory to him, after all he had done in the previous rounds.
Having made just 38 appearances in total during the previous two seasons, Park would have been justified if he had wanted to leave. After Moscow, nobody would have blamed him for handing in a transfer request, but he took it on the chin without complaint, and worked his way back into the team. The next time United faced Chelsea, Park opened the scoring at Stamford Bridge, in a game which would finish 1-1.
During the 2008-09 season, Park became an integral part of the team, and once against proved his worth as a big game player. In the Champions League semi-final against Arsenal, he opened the scoring against his favourite opponents at The Emirates. United comfortably won that tie, and booked themselves a place in Rome to face Barcelona. Once again, there would be heartbreak for the Korean in this competition, but this time not because of the result. Park started the game, making him the first Asian footballer to play in a Champions League Final. Unfortunately, his side didn’t turn up on the night, and Barcelona barely broke a sweat in their 2-0 victory.
Park signed a new three year contract extension, and made it clear that he had no plans to leave the club. Finally, he was injury free and playing well, and would go onto to enjoy the best two seasons of his old Trafford career, from a personal point of view. Unsurprisingly, Arsenal were one of the teams on the receiving end of his red-hot form. In January 2010, United went to the Emirates, and for the second time in less than a year, won 3-1. Park scored United’s third goal that day, after a sweeping counter attack that the Gunners had no answer for.
The following month, Park put in what was arguably the best performance of his United career, at home to AC Milan. A few years earlier, the Italian giants had knocked United out of the Champions League before going on to win it. This time, the Red Devils were 3-2 up from the away leg, but with some of the players at their disposal, such as Ronaldinho, and an on-loan David Beckham, nobody took anything for granted. Their most dangerous player was Andrea Pirlo, who was one of the best midfielders in world football. Park was instructed by Ferguson to man-mark him out of the game, which he did to a tee. Pirlo later complimented Park in his autobiography, calling him the “first nuclear-powered Korean”, and stated that the midfielder was the one player he could never get the better of. To top off his man-of-the-match performance, Park also scored in a 4-0 home victory
If the midfielder wasn’t popular enough already, he scored the winning goal against Liverpool two weeks later, with a superb diving header. He also scored on the final day of the season against Stoke City, but there was to be no fourth title a row, as Chelsea pipped them to the post by one point.
Park, Park, Wherever You May Be
United had failed in their mission to become the first English side to win four titles in a row, and had been eliminated from the Champions League by Bayern Munich. The mission was to try and win these titles back. By now, Park had already amassed an impressive trophy collection, with three Premier League titles, three League Cups and a Champions League medal, as well as the FIFA Club World Cup. In terms of goals, 2010-11 would be his highest scoring season yet.
In the autumn, Wolves were twice on the receiving end of what Park brought to his side. After scoring the winner in a League Cup tie at Old Trafford, he then scored both goals in a 2-1 league victory against them, the second one in injury time. He also scored in the 7-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers, and was voted United’s Player of the Month for November.
As the Christmas period approached, Arsenal were leading the Premier League table, and came to Old Trafford hoping to extend their lead. Once again, Park Ji-Sung proved to be the thorn in their side, scoring a looping header which proved to be the only goal of the game. It wasn’t long before United replaced the Gunners at the top of the table.
The Champions League knockout stages threw up a rematch of the 2008 final. By now Chelsea had overcome a shaky start and were chasing United in the league, and the two were drawn together in the quarter-final. United won the first leg at Stamford Bridge 1-0, and were leading on the night through a Javier Hernández goal before Didier Drogba pulled one back to ensure a nervy finish. With less than 15 minutes to go, Ryan Giggs found Park in space, and the Korean midfielder slammed a low shot past Petr Čech to see United through.
Park finished the season in style, as United won a record 19th title. He set up Hernández to open the scoring in the league game against Chelsea, a win which meant United needed just a point from their last two fixtures. He also scored on the final day against Blackpool, after which the trophy was presented in front of the Old Trafford crowd.
End of an Era
The 2011-12 season would be Park’s last in the Red of United, and he began the campaign in the same fine form as the previous two. When United hammered Arsenal 8-2 in August, Park was predictably on the scoresheet. Through the season, however, his appearances were becoming more and more sporadic. Mainly being introduced as a substitute, he started just 10 Premier League games.
His final goal for United actually came at Anfield, in a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in the F.A. Cup. By this time, Paul Scholes had reversed his decision to retire, which provided more competition. His final appearance for the club was rather a bizarre one. United needed to avoid defeat at Manchester City to stay ahead of them in the table. Park hadn’t played in over six weeks, and was employed to do a man-marking job on Yaya Touré. The plan backfired horribly, as the Korean clearly wasn’t match fit, and United lost 1-0 without registering a shot on goal. Nobody needs reminding of how that title race ended, but this would the last United appearance of Park’s career.
Later Career and Post Retirement
In the summer of 2012, Park Ji-sung transferred to Queens Park Rangers, but spent a lot of time injured playing in just half of his new club’s matches that season. When the club were relegated, he returned to his old club, PSV Eindhoven, where he followed a similar pattern. The wear and tear of Parks all-action style had finally caught up with him. In May 2014, the Korean midfielder announced his retirement from professional football.
Since retiring, Park has returned to United as a club ambassador. He regularly participates in club events, and was chosen in the starting line-up in the Legends match against Barcelona this afternoon.
Every Manchester United fan remembers Park Ji-sung fondly, as he was a fantastic servant to the club in one of its most successful periods. He won a host of trophies, and always gave his all for the team, chasing down lost causes that most would have given up on. Most importantly, he was proud to play for the club, and got what it meant to wear the United shirt. Any club would welcome a player such as him in their side.
Added by Philip Meese on 02/09/2017 15:52:09