Park part of Manchester United's landscape
Being left out of the squad made the Korean even more determined to earn his place
Wednesday 17 March 2010
Park Ji-sung never felt like leaving Manchester United, even in his despair at being completely overlooked for the 2008 Champions League final. Despite being one of the most industrious players in Sir Alex Ferguson's squad, Park did not even make the bench for the Moscow shoot-out triumph against Chelsea. Instead he was consigned to watch from the stands, the odd man out in every sense.
Coveted back home, and loved in the Netherlands, where he played so well for Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven before being lured to Old Trafford by Ferguson, it would have been easy for Park to throw in the towel.
Instead he just approached his task with renewed vigour. "That night was a big disappointment for me," recalled the 29-year-old, who was making an appearance at the announcement of a sponsorship deal between United and Turkish Airlines. "I didn't want to leave because I felt I could do more to make it at United. That is why I stayed. I felt it would eventually happen and I believed we would reach another Champions League final, I just didn't expect it to be the following year."
Although Park finished a loser in Rome as United's hopes of retaining the trophy were wrecked by Barcelona, at least by being part of the squad he silenced some of the doubters who claimed he had only been bought because of his commercial value.
Having made two highly successful trips to Seoul since Park joined the club, United have certainly gained far in excess of the £4m they paid for the midfielder. But Park denies he is a trophy asset.
"I didn't get a sense of just being signed for commercial reasons," he said. "I wanted to show that Asian players could make it in Europe. But it was far more important for me just to become a better player. That is why I came to Europe from Asia.
"I do not think of myself as a standard bearer for Asian players. I just try to work hard for myself. Once I became more famous I was proud that people in Asia started to look towards me. All the Asian people respect me and watch me. But I don't want people to think of me as an Asian player. I am just a football player."
The reception Park receives when he goes home would rival anything David Beckham can generate in Britain. He admits it can be slightly unnerving at times, although he finds earning his living half a world away provides a pretty significant buffer.
"Everything I do is watched," he said. "It happened before I came to Manchester United but once I got here the scrutiny became even greater. All the games are live and lots of people watch them early in the morning.
"But when you are in England it is easy to deal with the attention. The people in Korea can't chase me all over the place here. I don't notice how excited they are. I can deal with that."
Park can also deal with the plaudits that have been heaped on him recently by Ferguson, who views the South Korean as one of the major beneficiaries of his new attacking system, with Wayne Rooney as a lone frontman.
Scepticism in the stands has also been erased, along with the self-doubt that Park carried as baggage when he first arrived at Old Trafford.
"I feel better about being at Manchester United," he said. "When I first came I was a little bit worried that I would not be a success. But that always happens. You never know you are going to succeed until you have.
"What I was going to do at the time was more important. I just tried to do my best and once I started training I totally forgot about my concerns. Now I feel quite confident. Mentally, I am in a good place.
"The fans have also been supporting me. It makes me more assured about showing my ability on the pitch."
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