Unsung Hero Departs With A Place In United Hearts
By Thomas Doyle
“Park, Park, wherever you may be,”… no longer at Old Trafford is now the answer to the Manchester United faithful’s playful take on the cherished Park Ji Sung, who has moved to Queens Park Rangers in a deal worth £5million.
Although United fans will be unanimous in their sadness at Park’s departure, in reality it represents a good move for all parties; the South Korean didn’t get much game time last season, despite United’s midfield troubles, and at 31 years old and with a record as impressive as his, he deserves to be in with a chance of playing every week.
Mark Hughes has secured the services of a talented player who, as we all know, simply never stops working for the team (which could help given that Joey Barton still appears to play for them), and providing the performance targets on the original £2.5million fee are reached, Sir Alex Ferguson will have actually received a £1million return on an industrious talent who played his part in many key matches, and inevitably provided United with huge merchandising sales in Asia and beyond.
Park’s signing in 2005 was originally labelled as a cynical marketing ploy to cash in on Asian markets, but it was clear that Ferguson had spotted the type of player he loves. While Park may never be blessed with true raw talent, his energy levels are scarcely believable (gaining him the nickname ‘Three Lung Park’) and although he came to United as a relative unknown to the media, he played a key role in the PSV Eindhoven team that reached the Champions League semi finals the season before. Park went about silencing his doubters with all-action displays on either flank, and made up for his technical limitations with a sound tactical awareness, strong defensive work, and selfless dedication to the work ethic of the team.
Park became the first Asian to captain United, and the first to play in a Champions League Final, despite it ending in defeat to Barcelona in 2009. His record in big matches was particularly notable – especially in nullifying the threat of Andrea Pirlo in an away tie against AC Milan in 2010 – and while he was often praised for his tactical discipline in tense league and European encounters, he also offered real attacking threat, as shown with his five strikes against Arsenal during his United career. He netted 27 times in 205 games for United, a respectable figure, and gave drive and tenacity to a midfield that has look a little more pedestrian in recent years.
However, his options were limited last term, and Park has had to move on in order re-ignite his career. Ferguson told manutd.com that:”(Park’s) been a fantastic servant to the club over the past seven years. He’s the ultimate professional and such a nice lad; he never let us down on the big occasions. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t give him the number of games he wanted.”
Hughes will be delighted at acquiring such an industrious player for what may be another difficult season ahead, and will be hoping that his maturity and professionalism will rub off on a few members of his squad that need to buck up their ideas following a nervy survival on the last day of the 2011/12 season. QPR’s owner Tony Fernandes will also be delighted at securing an Asian superstar in conjunction with their sponsorship from Air Asia, but regardless of what he can do off the pitch, Park will be integral to Rangers’ survival hopes on it.
In terms of United’s future, Park’s move to London also opens up space in the squad, which Ferguson would surely have made Nick Powell aware of before the youngster signed his contract, such was his wariness at a lack of game time next season if he did make the switch to Old Trafford. With the likely arrival of another central midfielder, and talk of another winger in the shape of Lucas Moura, Park’s departure perhaps represents further progression of Ferguson’s ideology towards the high-tempo, highly technical youngsters he believes he will need to compete with the likes of Manchester City and Barcelona.
Park told the club’s website that: “My time at United will last in my heart for the rest of my life.” On behalf of United fans everywhere, the feeling is more than mutual. Rarely can a player have left a club on such good terms, and truly deserved the universal praise.
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