A national icon and Korea’s answer to David Beckham, Park has enjoyed every bit as prestigious an international career as his Manchester United predecessor. He has now retired from international football, but it was with the national team at the 2002 World Cup that Park was launched on the way to superstardom as South Korea reached the semi-finals under Guus Hiddink. The unassuming midfielder has been a favourite ever since.
Displaying from an early age the commitment and work ethic that would serve him so well in his later career, Park overcame concerns about his size to join Japanese side Kyoto Purple Sanga at the age of 18. Following his starring role at the 2002 World Cup, Park followed the Dutchman to PSV Eindhoven. After a period of adjustment to the demands of European football, Park became a key figure at PSV, winning a league and cup double in 2005. His performances on the European stage helped convince Sir Alex Ferguson of his worth and, that summer, he cemented his position as a Korean national hero by joining the wildly-popular Manchester United. Although he was a shock omission from the squad for the Champions League final against Chelsea in 2008, Park is a cult figure at Old Trafford and has won three successive Premier League titles as well as starting the 2009 and 2011 Champions League final defeats to Barcelona.
Strengths: An intelligent runner off the ball with his excellent movement, Park boasts bottomless energy and his stamina and work-rate have earned him the nickname ‘Three Lungs’. His approach to the game is that of a model professional.
Weaknesses: Park is far from prolific and his finishing is fairly poor. A lack of a final product has always dogged the midfielder and his shy demeanour can see him marginalised by bigger egos. Career high: Scoring the 70th-minute winner against Portugal at the 2002 World Cup which secured South Korea’s place in the knockout stages.
Career low: Being left out of the United squad that won the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea despite playing every minute of the quarter-final and semi-final. Ferguson described the decision as the hardest of his career.
Style: Dynamic, energetic, fearless, a committed professional.
Quotes: “He’s a real players’ player. Up there with best in world for movement and so intelligent and direct with runs off the ball. His work-rate is unreal; he adds a dimension no other player brings to the team. He’s underrated a real top player.” Rio Ferdinand, March 2009.
Trivia: Park was a small child and his father encouraged him to consume boiled frog extract in a bid to accelerate his growth.
Park Ji-sung, Korea’s leading light in Europe
Park lifts the Champions League cup for Manchester United in 2008