Player Profile: Park Ji-sung
Date of Birth: 25/02/1981
National Team: South Korea
International Caps: 100
International Goals: 13
When Sir Alex Ferguson announced the capture of a little known South Korean named Park Ji-sung in 2005, he was met with puzzled glances and disappointed groans from the Manchester United fanbase who had been used to marquee signings. Many cited the signing as an example of the financial troubles that had befallen the club under new owner Malcolm Glazer. Others dismissed it as a marketing ploy to increase the club’s Asian fanbase. Yet, seven years later, as Park departed the club as a multiple-time league winner, European champion and a firm fan-favourite, there was little doubt as to how good he was.
Park was a pathbreaker, one of the first Asian stars to do well in the league and clear the path for others. Yet no one would have predicted this when he was starting out. Despite being a promising youngster, Park was rejected by a number of clubs and universities in his homeland.
His big break came, after the university team he was training with, played South Korea’s Olympic team in a practice match. He was so impressive in the match that he was promptly asked to join the team.
He caught another lucky break when scouts of the Japanese League team Kyoto Purple Sanga came to scout another player but returned home impressed by him instead. Park joined the J League side and made 76 league appearances scoring 11 goals across three seasons. After winning the league in 2001 and the Emperor’s Cup in 2002, Park moved to Europe.
He re-joined his former national team coach Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven. Initially, Park suffered from injuries and struggled to get to grips with the Dutch game. In his first season, he would only appear nine times and was unable to win over the PSV fans who jeered him whenever he had possession.
Things improved in his second season though. With Arjen Robben leaving for Chelsea, Park started playing in a familiar position at PSV. The 2004/05 season saw Park help PSV to a Champions League semifinal appearance and he was nominated for the 2005 UEFA Best Forward award for his stellar appearances along the way. He also helped PSV clinch the Eredivisie title.
His displays in The Netherlands caught the attention of United and Ferguson, who signed Park for £4 million in the summer of 2005. In his first season, he made 45 appearances in all competitions and scored two goals as he impressed with strong performances. The highlight of his first season at Old Trafford came when Park played the full 90 minutes in United’s 4-0 League Cup final win over Wigan Athletic.
Over the next two seasons, Park struggled with injuries but nevertheless popped up with important goals from time to time. A recurring ankle injury and chronic knee pain would plague him during this period. However, he still managed to pick up back-to-back Premier League titles with the Red Devils.
Park made one of his best displays for the club in the semifinal of the 2008 Champions League as his energy prevented a star-studded Barcelona side from expressing themselves. Despite this, he was not even included in the squad for the final against Chelsea that United won, a decision that Ferguson describes as one of the hardest of his career.
The following season, Ferguson would save Park for big European games and important Premier League fixtures due to his work rate, versatility and dedication. It worked as United won a third Premier League title in a row and made the Champions League final again. Park started but was substituted in the 66th minute and could only pick up a runners-up medal.
Park signed a new three-year deal with the club and scored several crucial goals during the 2009-10 season. However, he was unable to guide United to the league title. The midfielder made up for it by helping his club become Champions again the following year. Eight goals in all competitions made it his most fruitful season for the Red Devils and Park picked up the club’s player of the month award for November and December. The one big sour spot though was losing yet another Champions League final, once again to Barcelona.
The 2011/12 season would prove to be Park’s final one with the Red Devils as fitness issues, and injuries saw him reduced to a fringe player. He moved to Queens Park Rangers after the season but only spent a year there. After a final stint at PSV, Park Ji-sung retired from football in 2014.
Park Ji-sung enjoyed a stellar career for South Korea, making a century of appearances and playing in three World Cups.
After making his debut in 2000 against Laos, Park featured in all three group games at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Later that year, he also played a significant role in helping South Korea finish third at the Asian Cup.
By the time, the 2002 World Cup came along, Park had managed to establish himself in the side. The fact that South Korea was co-hosting it with Japan made it all the more special. Their Dutch coach Guus Hiddink moved Park on to the right-wing, and the move proved to be an inspired one. He scored against England and France in pre-tournament friendlies.
Park carried that form into the tournament, slotting home the winner against Portugal. He continued to play an important role in the South Korea side that became one of the biggest surprise packets in the tournament’s history. The Taegeuk Warriors amazing run came to an end at the semi-final stage against Germany, before losing to Turkey in the third-place play-off.
He managed to help South Korea to another third-place finish at the Asian Games in 2002. In the 2004 Asian Cup, South Korea bowed out in the quarter-finals, where Park assisted Seol Ki-hyeon in the match against Iran, but his side lost 4-3.
In the 2006 World Cup, South Korea were unable to reproduce their form from four years earlier as they failed to get out of the group. However, Park was once again the standout player for his country as he scored against eventual finalists France and won man of the match for his efforts.
Park was handed the captaincy in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and did well in the qualifiers, scoring five goals. During the tournament, he scored once again, for the third World Cup in a row, as he found the back of the net against Greece in the first group game. South Korea made the Round of 16 for the first time on foreign soil but lost to Uruguay.
The 2011 Asian Cup would turn out to be Park’s last tournament for South Korea. He travelled with the squad as their captain and made his 100th appearance for his country against Japan in a semi-final defeat. Just like four years prior, South Korea finished third in the tournament and Park Ji-sung retired from international football shortly after.
Where is Park Ji-sung now?
After retirement, Park Ji-sung transitioned quickly into the administrative side of things. In 2016, he attended De Montfort University to try to gain the requisite qualifications to manage in the K-League. Then, he gained entry to the FIFA Masters – the master’s program that FIFA offers in partnership with various universities – and graduated as an International Master in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport in 2017.
Park remains popular with the Old Trafford faithful, and he regularly returns to Manchester as a club ambassador.
The former midfielder also does the occasional media work for outlets back in his native South Korea and was on hand at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
He is also heavily involved in charity ventures. The JS Foundation, which he set up in 2011, is concerned with providing football infrastructure to the underprivileged. He also hosts the Suwon JS Cup to aid in the development of South Korean youngsters. Park puts together a team called Park Ji-sung and friends. They participate in the annual Asia Dream Cup charity event. Over the years, several footballers including Rio Ferdinand and Ahn Jung-hwan have joined him in the venture.
Did you know? Interesting facts about Park Ji-sung
– Park Ji-sung counts his mother as one of the biggest influences on him, describing her as humble and hard-working. He credits his reputation as a hard-working team player to what he learnt from her.
– When he was starting out, Park was described by a number of coaches as being too small and too weak. His father, in an attempt to correct this, reportedly made him eat frogs and antlers and drink the blood of deers.
– Park’s best friend in football is Patrice Evra. The left-back can be seen joking about his former teammate in many interviews.
– One of the many footballers who has a tremendous amount of respect for Park is legendary Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo. The Italian developed this respect when the South Korean marked him out of games when playing for Man United. In his autobiography, Pirlo wrote that Park was perhaps the first South Korean to be nuclear-powered.