“He never stops running, ever – After a good night’s sleep dreaming about running, Park runs out of bed and runs around the kitchen making breakfast like Morecambe and Wise on crack. He then runs himself a bath, runs laps at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground, runs back home in the evening and then runs to the shop because he’s run out of milk.” (Source: Sport.co.uk)
What a candid and fitting description of possibly the most famous Asian footballer of all time!
The majority of us are convinced that Park Ji-Sung was purchased to sell shirts. Regardless of his stellar performances, the everyday skeptics would never recognise Park’s contribution to Man Utd’s tactical extension. While being with a successful team has enabled him to become the first Asian to ever feature and the only Korean to ever win the Champions League final (against Barcelona and Chelsea respectively), we should also remember that he’s the captain and highest scorer of an undefeated national team in the World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign and the only Asian team that has reached the World Cup semi-finals. Park is also the first Asian to ever captain Man Utd (even for just a few minutes) and to win the FIFA Club World Championship.
When I lived in Shanghai, I used to play football every Sunday morning with a team of Singaporeans and I squirmed when they called me Park; I don’t know if it was because of resemblance or because of my constant running (no, really), but I’d like to think it’s the latter because a few of them keep telling me to stop running!
I became a fan of Park Ji-Sung when I visited South Korea last July – it was there that I realised how massive Park was, and how, when I use his name (in vain), it gets me places. I thought, “Hmm, I should just introduce myself as Park since I’m already used to it”. And so I did. With all the broken Korean an-nyong-ha-se-yo that I could speak, I introduced myself as Park whenever I met a South Korean, be it the innkeeper or the owner of the amusement park. “My name, Park.” Without fail, they break out into a hearty chortle every single time.
It sets them at ease immediately and builds up a sense of familiarity between two strangers. With that audacity to shamelessly pretend to be the national hero, I received massive discounts, unexpected favours, patient answers to annoying tourist questions, and most precious of all, I experienced the South Korean hospitality and smile in the warmest way possible. And being shrewd, you can imagine how I continued with that introduction for the rest of the trip. I have so much to thank you for, Ji-Sung. And I didn’t even need to run!
The more I watch Park play, the more I enjoy his honest, hardworking and tenacious contribution to Man Utd. He has consistently proven his credentials and deserves all the accolades after scoring in big matches and against big teams like AC Milan, Arsenal and Liverpool. He willingly covers every blade of grass for his teammates and has rightfully earned the nickname, “Three-lung Park”. He’s not quite at legendary status, I think he has confirmed his status as a United great and will surely enjoy a “cult hero” treatment in the stands and in our living rooms for the rest of his career.
“I didn’t think that (Park was bought just to sell shirts)… …When I went to see him play in those Champions League semi-finals for PSV Eindhoven in 2005, I thought this is a player who understands football. He is intelligent and disciplined and he can play different positions.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
“When Ji first arrived in Manchester he never talked and people didn’t know much about him. But when we arrived in Seoul you can see he is the King of Korea! They shake, they cry, they scream when they see him. It’s amazing. He’s like the David Beckham of Korea. I’m very happy for him because he’s a really good friend and on the pitch he always gives 100 per cent for the team. That’s why people love him.” – Patrice Evra
“I know that some of the Korean players are doing very well in England… …And Park has started very well. I think he has made his name at Eindhoven first and in the Champions League has convinced. When you play against him, he’s a very hardworking player who sacrifices for the team but as well has good skill and scores important goals, unfortunately, against us. I’m convinced by his quality. He has a top level attitude.” – Arsene Wenger
“When we were scouting Park at PSV, I went to see him at the quarter-finals against Lyon. What we identified was a player with a great understanding of space. When his team had the ball, his movement was clever. We saw a player who could penetrate in the last third of the field and that is why we bought him. Since then he has developed his tactical and technical ability and he has become a very important player for us. He has had a fantastic career with us. When a local lad like Ji-Sung has left his country to play for Manchester United and excel at the highest level then it is obvious he will receive adulation at home. He has been the star of the national team for a while too. This is a football nation and when they see Park doing well and then when he comes back, the reaction is understandable.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
We used to dread Park’s inclusion on the team sheet but now we feel more confidence with him in the starting 11; he has indeed proven to worldwide audiences that hard work pays off after all. He is an inspiration for all Asians – if he could do it for Man Utd, surely one of the billion others could.
I’ve spent a fair amount of money on Man Utd and this was the first time I received financial dividends. If you ever happen to be in Suwon (Park’s hometown), look out for Park Ji-Sung Road – this unprecedented road-naming for a living person honours Park’s sizable contributions to South Korea through football. Remember also, to use the most powerful four-letter word – P-A-R-K.
Keep watching, keep believing and keep working hard. For one day, worldwide success (and local discounts for your fans) will surely knock on your door.