Park seizes his final chance after rocky ride

Korean was devastated at being left out in Moscow but will have part to play in Rome

Park Ji-Sung ambles through Manchester United's training complex with an insouciance that suggests he does not suspect anyone will stop him and actually ask to talk. His great friend Carlos Tevez, in garish white puffer jacket, is up ahead holding court but the South Korean keeps his head down. He did the same in his only appearance at a Champions League press conference of the past two seasons, last April, when he was asked a solitary question – the last one, and an afterthought – to which he quietly responded, with the season's finish fully six weeks off, that United would win the double.

When this conversation does begin unravelling, Park, articulating his thoughts on Wednesday's Champions League final in clear English, makes it clear that the low profile is just fine. In his native Seoul fans have been known to chase him down the streets amid the kind of acclaim that makes David Beckham look like a C-lister. "The culture there is different," the 28-year-old says. "Asian fans shout at me and chase me and when I go back to Korea maybe I can't walk down the streets. It is sure different to the English culture. But I don't want to be a famous or popular guy. I want to be a good player, but not a popular guy off the pitch. I like it to be calm off the pitch."

Manchester is beginning to awake to him, too. The midfielder was devastated to be omitted from Sir Alex Ferguson's Champions League final squad last season – "it was heartbreaking," he reflects, "the biggest disappointment in my career so far" – but he has responded in a way which reflects his football: steadfastly and unsensationally picking himself up and completing his most convincing season yet at Old Trafford. "I used [Moscow] as motivation," he says. "I believed United could get to the final again and I wanted to be there this time. I kept working hard and finally I have one more chance. Hopefully this time it is different to last season."

It surely will be. Ferguson has effectively guaranteed Park a place in the squad for Rome – reward, it would seem for the kind of forbearance that Tevez cannot find. The two of them and Patrice Evra make up one of the most improbable social groups at United, involved in the kind of high jinks which are revealed in the memorable Park birthday episode, viewable through YouTube, in which Park is blasted in the face by a confetti popper brought by Tevez.

Understandably, Park staunchly defends Tevez's recent protests and argues a strong case for him staying. "He is the best player so we need him," Park says. "We know that. This season when he's come on the pitch he has scored a lot of goals, helped the team and saved the team. But it is only Carlos who can do that, compared to other players." Park has shown the greater fortitude in the face of far more affliction of his own in his European career. Signed for PSV Eindhoven after Guus Hiddink moved there from the South Korean side he took to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals, Park struggled with form and injury and was booed by his own fans.

"I always thought I'd stay in Europe," he reflects. "When I had a hard time [in the Netherlands] I thought I could show that I am an honest person and if they still boo me then my quality is not enough to play in Europe." Eventually he became integral to PSV's midfield, scoring the first goal in the 2004/5 Champions League semi-final against Milan which the Dutch narrowly lost, and was such a cult hero that "Song for Park", the terrace anthem adopted for him, was included in an official PSV anthem. The lyrics do not appear to gravitate much beyond the refrain "Ji-Sung Park" but the thought was there.

Park feels he has something to prove, as he seeks to become the first Asian to win a Champions League medal. "I believe I have not shown everything," he says. "If I can show everything I will be happy, but at the moment I do not want to go back to Korea."

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk