Few have not heard of Ji-Sung Park, the Korean superstar dubbed the "Shaggy Haired-One" of UK Premiership team Manchester United. Park rose to international stardom in 2002, scoring goals against England and France during international friendlies in May, preceding the World Cup of 2002. During the World Cup, he scored the winning goal in South Korea's match against Portugal . His first professional contract was at J-League's Kyoto Purple Sanga in 2000, and he was the first Korean footballer ever to go straight to the J-League without going through the K-League.
He was arguably the most influential player of the team by 2002 and following his stellar performance World Cup that year, it was evident that the J-League was too small a stage for Park. His international career began as a defensive midfielder at age 18. When Guus Hiddink became the head coach of South Korea, Park's position was changed to winger. Since then, Park is considered to be versatile player who can play in a range of positions, from wing-back to central midfield. After the World Cup, Park was recruited to PSV Eindhoven, to play under his mentor and former national team coach Hiddink. Unlike his compatriot Young-Pyo Lee, who rapidly became a fixture in PSV Eindhoven's starting lineup, Park struggled and a few poor performances which unfortunately saw him being boo-ed by some of the PSV fans.
By the end of 2003-2004 season, Park had adapted to The Netherlands, he quickly proved his worth to the team forming the backbone of PSV Eindhoven's midfield play with fellow Korean Young-Pyo Lee and Dutchmen Mark van Bommel and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Park's energetic movement created havoc against all opponents at all areas of the field, both offensively and defensively. His PSV career highlight came he scored the first goal against AC Milan at the Champions League semi-finals. Park was scouted by Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United by the end of the 2005 season who believed that Park's energetic style of play and outstanding fitness could be the foundation his flagging Manchester United side needed. Also, with the aging of Ryan Giggs and the relatively inexperienced Cristiano Ronaldo on the right wing, Park was sought after, in order to keep the Manchester United midfield fresh but also provide experience to a mostly young team.
In July 2005, Ji-Sung Park signed a four-year contract with Manchester United for four million pounds. As anticipated, Park impressed fans during Manchester United's pre-season tour of the Far East, as well as in the first game of the season against Everton with his tireless, energetic roaming of the pitch and pressuring of opponents, such that Ferguson picked him over Ryan Giggs and the popular Cristiano Ronaldo against Aston Villa on 20th August the following week. His lack of composure in front of goal is considered his main weakness as he has, on many occassions, come close to scoring but he has opted to pass the ball to his other team-mates. Park has been renowned for his good attitude and strong work ethic which have helped him excel for both club and country. His fitness is known to rival that of a marathon runner, and his former teammates at PSV Eindhoven have jokingly suggested that Park plays with an oxygen tank strapped to his back.
Ji-Sung Park's unofficial website is soon hosting a charity contest where fans can win a genuine Man United shirt, hand-signed by Park, worth hundreds of pounds. Every person who enters- needs to donate 2 pounds & predict how many goals in total Park will have scored for Man United in all competitions by the end of the season. All money raised is being given to a local South Korean charity- a football academy for deprived youngsters, in conjunction with the famous South Korean team: Suwon Bluewings, the famous football club, from where Park is from and was born. For more information please visit: www.ji-sungpark.
By: Robert Brookes