There have been many success stories of the season, there’s been James Milner’s all action style, Birmingham’s great and at the same time, surprising form and Bobby Zamora’s transition from donkey to potential England hopeful to name but a few – Ji Sung Park’s excellent recent form has to be right up there too.
Park arrived at Utd in the summer of 2005 on a £4m deal from Dutch giants PSV, a deal which should now represent one of Ferguson’s most astute buys. The South Korean is comfortable anywhere across midfield and it’s a quality that’s often been to his detriment. A ridiculously high work rate, great first touch and ability to make the difference in big games have marked Park out as a great acquisition.
His form of late, a great performance in the Carling Cup final against Villa coupled with an equally impressive game against Milan this week has seen the diminutive Park hit a rich vein of form. His constant harrying of Andrea Pirlo was a joy to watch – for the footballing purist at least – and whilst he’s not always eye catching and is often regarded as solid if unremarkable player, his performances of late have seen him take up the mantle of midfield enforcer from Darren Fletcher.
It remains a cause for debate what his best position is and what formation he flourishes best in, but within that is part and parcel of Park’s appeal. I utterly detest the much overused phrase “he can do a job there” and although cringe inducing, in principle, it does apply to Park. He’s useful down the flanks, particularly of late as part of an attacking trident and Ferguson’s willingness to use him in Europe as a stifling weapon has been one of great success. But against Milan he performed a more central role and was key to Utd’s dominance keeping the excellent Pirlo relatively quiet whilst bursting forward to add to the attack when needed – these forays culminating in a well taken goal in the second half.
He can be seen as little more than a workhorse, someone who people can rather ignorantly claim was originally only brought to sell shirts overseas, a squad player and nothing more, but this season he’s really stepped his performances up. He’s always been a consistent performer, that along with his versatility have always been his main attributes and the basis of his enduring appeal, but his base level of performance is somewhat higher than it has ever been throughout his Utd career.
Ferguson stated leaving Park out of the 2007 Champions League final starting eleven against Chelsea was the hardest decision he’s ever made regarding team selection whilst manager of the club, quite a bold claim, in the blink of an eye he’s gone from squad regular to essential first team starter. He’s also a popular player within the club (anyone who hasn’t seen the youtube clips of Park’s birthday where bizarrely his best friends are both Tevez and Evra yet, I strongly urge you to do so now) and his quiet and affable manner are befitting of a player who has had to work hard at their game and he is now reaping benefits of his hard work.
The only thing that I can think of that has seen Park somewhat underrated by the media, fans and punditry at large is because of his nationality. The ignorance that someone from South Korea could ever possibly be of any use to a club of Utd’s size still seems to exist in some quarters, whether spoken or quietly assumed. Ask yourself this question, if Park, were say, of English origin, would he have been labelled world class by now? The way the tabloids work, he probably would have. I’m not saying he’s a world beater, but his ability to perform in, as Schteve McLaren aptly put it in his embarrassing Yorkshire/Dutch twang ‘the big gameshhh’ should not go unnoticed. His performances of late have been particularly outstanding but his consistency throughout the season has been overlooked by most and for once the quiet man of the Utd dressing room (move over Paul Scholes you’re heir apparent has arrived) is finally now starting to gain some overdue recognition.
Managers of Hiddink and Ferguson’s class do simply not place so much faith in a player such as Park if they are not of an excellent pedigree, Park’s ability to change a game in the blink of an eye with his movement, ball winning skills and finishing ability cannot be underestimated and the longer the 29 year old continues to perform as he has done at present, the longer he will be key to Utd’s future.
Written By James McManus