What’s in a name? Ji-Sung Park is finally earning some plaudits for his influential performances other than being habitually, lazily, and possibly prejudicially tagged ‘industrious.’ Which, by the way, if you had watched TV, listened to the radio, or read any newspapers in the last 5 years, is the only word you would have heard in conjunction with the talented but massively under hyped South Korean.
Anyone who had watched Ji-Sung Park put an excellent AC Milan side to the sword and almost single-handedly dump them out of the Champions League five years ago when playing for PSV Eindhoven, will realise that the motivation behind Manchester United’s decision to buy him was a football one, and not commercial enterprise as is often spuriously claimed.
But Park had to start his career in England with the weight of this accusation on his shoulders. Of course, he is exceptionally quick, committed, and charges around the pitch like David Beckham in his heyday, or even Darren Fletcher now, but to end the description there is a travesty. To continually label him merely hardworking is a rank media cliché and detracts from what it is that makes him special. There’s a phantom prejudice behind the statement because he is Asian. I’m not suggesting this is deliberate, or even noticed by people who label him thus, but the simple fact is he is a very good footballer; technically excellent, two-footed, a good-dribbler, and he can cross, and pass, extremely well. His movement off the ball is up there with the very best in the game.
All of which is confirmed by the fact that Park has become a crucial component of the current Manchester Unite first team. In their standard Premier League line-up, his versatility and game intelligence is usually supplanted by a greater attacking impetus and Fergusons will field two central midfielders and intemperately play Dimitar Berbatov, but when it really counts – in crunch matches in Europe and the Premier league where the quality, formation and magnitude of the occasion necessitates it, he plays with three midfielders. In this formation Park has been utilised anywhere from the wing to central midfield, but crucially, is always in the starting eleven.
His performances merit it. Think back to the assist he gave Wayne Rooney in the Champions League quarter final against AS Roma, or the semi final against Barcelona the same year when he was voted man of the match in the company of some pretty good players. Last year, he was one of the main reasons Manchester United destroyed Arsenal so convincingly in the second leg of their semi final at the Emirates. And his nullifying job on Andrea Pirlo against AC Milan recently was nothing short of superb. Should Manchester United make it to a final with either Barcelona or Arsenal you can be sure he’ll be deployed against Xavi or Fabregas in a similar manner, and who would bet against him causing them all sorts of problems. Its interesting Sir Alex Ferguson is only recently seeing his potential as a central midfielder, when Park started his career for the National side in just that position – it was only Guus Hiddink who shifted him out to the wing.
Of course, he is not without fault, and his finishing can often be a little wayward considering some of the excellent positions he gets himself in, and he’s not great in the air, but it would be churlish to let any of that detract from his reputation. A reputation one hopes, that has now been elevated to a status more noteworthy, deserving and encompassing than being purely an exiguous and devaluing reference to his energy levels.