The South Korean is a player that proves how useless passing chalkboards can be. Instead in order to analyse Park one must instead simply watch him perform on a weekly basis to gauge just how important he is to Sir Alex Ferguson.
I remember not being a big fan of Park during his first few years at United. I think this had more to do with my limited knowledge of the game and understanding of how crucial his contributions were in spite of a poor goal return. Most supporters forget that during his final season at PSV Eindhoven Park was nominated for the 2005 UEFA Best Forward award with players like Andriy Shevchenko, Adriano, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. Not the usual group of players in which one would usually include Park.
Park signed in 2005 and became the first Asian player to captain United when he replaced Ryan Giggs during a Champions League group stage match versus Lille. While Park was unable to quite maintain his goal scoring form from his final year at PSV Eindhoven, he became Sir Alex Ferguson’s ace of spades for the big matches. Name a big match from the past five seasons and tell me that Park did not play a part in it. The one obvious exception is the 2008 Champions League Final, but that match aside, Park plays in every match against the top clubs in England and Europe.
The South Korean is the first player after Edwin van der Sar on Sir Alex’s team sheet for a big game. He has all of the qualities needed for a big match: relentless energy, skill, pace, tackling ability and most importantly remembers his defensive responsibilities. Park is to industry as Nani is to artistry. And it should not come as a surprise that Park’s peak in form has correlated with Nani’s decreasing influence in big matches. One would be hard pressed to recall many times when Park got caught in the wrong half of the pitch and cost United a goal.
The thing about Park is, he is an easy player to forget about when one thinks about the talent at Manchester United. While he lacks the flash of Nani, the striking prowess of Rooney or Valencia’s unbelievable ability to play a perfect cross in every situation, he provides the glue that keeps all of the component parts of United together.
When Patrice Evra gets caught upfield, who covers his left back position? Ji-Sung Park. When Giggs charges forward to be a part of a counterattack, who covers his spot in the middle? Ji-Sung Park. The South Korean possesses an equally important talent, a superior footballing brain. He knows the exact right positions to take on the pitch at any given time. And that will be invaluable in the Champions League Final versus Barcelona in a few weeks.
While Park’s star in the United constellation may be overlooked as others like Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs continue to sparkle, supporters would do well to remember Park Ji-Sung’s contributions this season. I hate to think how the Chelsea match last weekend would United have been without Park’s unbelievable work rate.
Park, Park wherever you may be…