Despite Park Ji Sung’s chant, sung heartily by the Old Trafford faithful being, whilst witty, mildly offensive to the population of South Korea, it is also one of the most popular songs to be heard from the Stretford End on a Saturday afternoon regardless of whether he is playing or not.
The popularity of the song is not without reason, echoing the adoration held by United fans for the most decorated player in the history of Asian football. But it is not merely the quality of Park’s game that has earned him such acclaim in Manchester but his determination, work ethic and all round personality that sets him apart from so many top flight footballers within the modern game.
Park’s attitude is becoming increasingly rare these days. His will to play for the team, and not for his own glories and publicity, is an admirable quality lacking in many of the recognised ‘world class’ players of today. When a manager places the determined South Korean within the starting eleven he knows exactly what he will receive in return, every ounce of energy and a solid work rate that is exemplary to any young footballer watching the modern game.
Park also brings leadership qualities to the team, captaining the South Korean national team up until his International retirement after the Asia Cup this year. When these two attributes are paired with his strength and versatility, beginning his career as a defensive midfielder but later occupying all midfield roles, including positions on the wing, and his ability to rise to the occasion in a ‘big game’ situation it would be hard to find any manager who wouldn’t have the 30 year old Korean on their payroll.
What strikes me about Park however is how little he is recognised as a top player in England. Whenever his performances are of a remarkably high level, and highlighted by the media, in big games such as both of United’s Champions League wins against Chelsea during this year’s competition for example, the news seems to be met with surprise from neutral spectators. Ask any United fan and they’ll tell you how he performs to a notably high standard on a consistent basis. The surprise to many is the proof of this recognition throughout his career.
Apart from the obvious trophy hoard that Park has enjoyed at Manchester United, making him the all time most decorated Asian footballer, he has also received recognition of his quality both internationally and at club level many times. He had gained over 100 caps for South Korea as well as being named FIFA Best Asian Player in Europe in 2007 and The Korean Football Association Footballer of the Year in 2010.
At club level, Park was included in the Eredivisie Best XI and the Dutch KNVB Cup MVP whilst at PSV Eindhoven in the season of 2004/05. He also made it into the UEFA Champions League best XI in 2005 as well as being nominated for the Ballon d’Or the same year. These are impressive achievements considering the other names who have graced UEFA’s best XI over the years as well as players who have been nominated for the prestigious Golden Ball award, probably the most highly recognised personal achievement in world football.
The evidence mounts suggesting that Park has always had the quality to compete at the very top level. As well as being strongly athletic and impressively energetic his passing and vision are commendable. However as well as his positive technical, physical and mental attributes his attitude towards the game, his constant professionalism and his overall likability make him a fantastic role model and a great asset to any manager.
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