Red Icons: A Look back at the Manchester United career of Park Ji-Sung

Park Ji-Sung was never the standout player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United sides, but his tenacity and willingness to run harder and further than most made him a crucial asset to the Scotsman.

The South Korean joined United from PSV Eindhoven in the summer transfer window of 2005 for around £4 million following a brilliant season for PSV. His excellent performances for the Dutch side earned him European recognition too, as he was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2005. Nonetheless, some felt the signing reflected United’s increasing efforts to expand the club as a brand, an attempt to widen their fan base in East Asia rather than genuinely improving the side.

However, Park proved to be far more than this and was able to replicate his success at PSV, making 205 appearances for United. In this time he scored 27 goals and picked up an impressive 13 trophies. This included the Champions League in 2008, making Park the first South Korean ever to win the competition.

Park was actually left out of the final matchday squad for the game against Chelsea, which came as somewhat of a shock for a player Sir Alex often called upon for the biggest occasions, as he did for the semi-final second leg over Barcelona. Since then Ferguson has said it is the one regret he has regarding that famous night in Moscow. A year later, Ferguson rewarded the South Korean’s professionalism and dedication with a starting spot in the Champions League Final against Barcelona.

Though United lost 2-0, Park will always be remembered for his part in that Champions League run, especially in the semi-final second leg against Arsenal. United ran riot at the Emirates, eventually running out as 3-1 winners on the day and 4-1 on aggregate. Park was on the scoresheet, and along with a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo, the Reds humiliated Arsene Wenger’s side with a fluent display of counter-attacking football.

One of the things which Sir Alex admired most about him was his ability to never stop, which contrasted with the lazed approach to fitness and training taken by his team-mate, Anderson. For his tirelessness, he was aptly nicknamed ‘Three Lung’ Park and the Duracell Bunny of the side. It has emerged that he had a rather unconventional method for acquiring such energy though. His father used to catch wild frogs and give his son their juice as he thought it would give the wiry youngster greater strength and enable him to grow.

This certainly demonstrates the gulf in dietary care between modern players and the older generation, who took relatively little care of their bodies in terms of nutrition and alcohol.

Park may also be remembered by United fans for one of the most unlikely friendships to have developed at the club over the years. Despite the language barrier, Park quickly developed a firm connection with Patrice Evra, so much so that Evra now refers to Park’s Father as ‘Papa’. Park’s professionalism and passion for the club made him a popular figure amongst the United faithful and his fellow teammates. It also made him a very difficult opponent to play against, something which Andrea Pirlo acknowledged, saying he was one opponent he could not get the better of:

“The midfielder must have been the first nuclear-powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron.”

Given Park’s dedication, it may come as a surprise that he retired at 33, but persistent issues with his knee gave him little choice. He has since returned to the Club in the capacity of Global Ambassador, joining a long list of former Reds who’ve returned to Old Trafford to promote the club. Pardoning the pun, the South Korean was undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes of Sir Alex’s reign.

Written by Rob Potter

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