Aashish Gadhvi deconstructs the return of Park Ji-sung
In case you don’t know, my birthday’s coming up, and what I want is a Man United shirt, with printed number 13, ‘J.S. Park’ on the back. The reason I ask is because the damn shirt doesn’t even exist in Manchester United’s Megastore in Old Trafford. Upon visiting the store I noticed shirts with Rooney, Ronaldo, Nani, Tevez and Giggs, but not one sign of my Korean hero. Surely, if anywhere there was to be merchandise of Park it would be in United’s own Megastore?
Apparently not, as I wondered around and the absence of Park merchandise became more and more apparent. I had taken my photo with the giant United team photo at the entrance, dozens of people huddled around Ronaldo and Rooney, whereas I was the only person in my corner, next to Park. This traumatic ordeal started off a chain of thoughts in my fragile mind. Was my hero not the same guy who scored against Portugal and France in consecutive World Cups? Was he not the guy who won the Dutch Eredivisie and Premiership? Was he not the same guy who was scoring every next week before his injury? More importantly, what does Park mean to Manchester United and Korean football?
Park Ji-sung is undoubtedly the most well known Korean footballer in the world at the moment. The reason why he has attained this position is because of his intense work rate and consistency, something which puts Park above even former PSV team mate Lee Young-pyo. Make no mistake, Lee Young-pyo possesses more skill and talent than Park, but that little bit of extra determination makes Park a perfect asset for a club like Man United, and makes his other Korean colleagues look like Homer Simpson.
Park is a scrapper, a fighter and a warrior at heart. He would probably be the first to admit that he doesn’t have the flair and skill that his team mates have, but what he does have is the will to keep going, which is a huge breath of fresh air compared to the attitude of the maniacal modern footballer. Many people know of the story of how Park got to where he is – overcoming flat feet, the locker room exchange with Guus Hiddink, the success at PSV and finally the arrival to Manchester, but what exactly is Park’s place in the wide scale of club and country?
Park’s arrival at Man United sparked the debate that he was being brought in purely to boost marketing in Asia, and considering the money orientated nature of the Premiership, is probably true. But Park’s debut matches and subsequent games were truly a sight to behold. His runs down the wings and through the centre of the pitch were reminiscent of a young Ryan Giggs, and his passing often ended with lethal effect, particularly when teaming up with Wayne Rooney. The Rooney and Ronaldo team has a nice ring to it, but there have been more than a few occasions when Park has provided the gloss to Rooney’s goals.
But Park’s main problem was his lack of strength and his finishing, which was poor to say the least. Soon he found himself at the wrong end of the rotation system in a team focusing around Rooney and Ronaldo. Moving Park out on the left, instead of on the right wing worked well, but it still didn’t fix the problem of his poor finishing. Then suddenly in his second season goals came in a cluster of a few games, and he seemed on fire, scoring in what seemed like every next game, and setting up goals for his team. Then bad luck struck again as he was injured for the rest of the season.
Park’s second coming has been a fairly positive one. He put in great performances against Middlesbrough and Roma and has been starting up front along with Rooney and Ronaldo. However, his last few performances against Blackburn and Barcelona haven’t gone down as well, and it seems Park is once again up against it, especially with reinforcements like Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Hargreaves and Tevez all in que.
Going back to my original thought of what Park means to Manchester United, it seems that he could become engulfed in the names which surround him, and go down the route of Kleberson and Djemba Djemba as United’s forgotten lot. Many a debate has surrounded whether Park truly belongs at Old Trafford, and I for one would love to see him rise above the flash gash and show Manchester what real grit and determination is all about. Time will tell whether that will be possible.
This then leaves the final question – where is Park’s place among the all-time Korean greats? In this category I think he has more work to do, especially when comparing him to the two greatest Korean players ever, Hong Myung-bo and the legendary Cha Bum-kun. Park is not the inspirational leader that Hong was, and he will probably never be as prolific for Manchester United as Cha was in the German Bundesliga. These two men were leaders, whereas Park is probably more comfortable just being part of the game plan.
Nevertheless, Park is the greatest Korean footballer of his generation, a workaholic dynamo and an absolute pleasure to watch. If he becomes the first Korean player to win Europe’s greatest prize – The Champions League, then he could well be holding his own place among the like of Hong Myung-bo and Cha Bum-kun. It is an honour to witness a Korean player like him make a mark on European football. Until then, does anyone know where I can get a United shirt with printing number 13, ‘J.S. Park’ on the back?