For years now Ji Sung Park has been an indefatigable part of the football peloton, a domestique, filling the gaps and preventing other players from running away, a George Hincapie to Wayne Rooney’s Lance Armstrong.
When the then South Korea captain signed for Manchester United in 2005, the media quickly dismissed him as a marketing tool to sell more shirts and increasing United’s already huge profile in the Far East.
The fact that United had just signed a proven international for a bargain fee of £4m was lost on the vast majority of the press when the former PSV midfielder stepped onto the Old Trafford turf for the first time.
It’s not often that Sir Alex Ferguson deems leaving a player out of the squad “one the hardest decisions of my career”, but such was Park’s ability to deliver when called upon that even the United manager was torn by doubts as Park quickly became United’s big games player.
By the time he decided that it was time to move to Loftus Road, the diminutive South Korean had won admirers in England after seven years of lung bursting runs and total commitment to the cause.
With United looking to improve their squad to wrestle the title back from City’s grasp, it is perhaps financially sensible to let go of a player approaching his 32nd birthday and whose fitness is key to his playing style, while at the same time receiving a small fee.
As Rio Ferdinand revealed yesterday on Twitter, the Korean will be missed in the Old Trafford dressing room: “Wishing Park ji Sung good luck at QPR. Great player for man utd, selfless + real team player. Funny guy too. Pat will be lost!!”
Such qualities seem to be a dying breed in the modern footballers, something QPR fans know even too well after witnessing players walking to the bus stop during a local derby after being substituted, or their captain claiming to deliberately trying to get an opponent sent off.
While he might not be a flashy footballer, Park is a true professional with an excellent pedigree (if you’ll excuse the pun, considering the eating habits in his homeland) and a cabinet with more trophies than the average footballer, which hasn’t diminished or altered his commitment on the pitch – in other words exactly what the Hoops have been crying for since their return to the top-flight.
In his first interview as QPR player, Park spoke of being thrilled by joining a club with a precise and exciting project in a way that would have made Robbie Keane feel very proud, and the Korean will be as pivotal to the project itself as he will be to the team, if Tony Fernandes’ plans are to be realised.
QPR’s Malaysian owner knows the Asian market perhaps better than any other club in the Premier League having made his first steps as businessman in that particular environment and quickly realised that a player of Park’s profile will provide an enormous help in raising the club’s profile.
QPR are, incidentally, due to begin their tour in Malaysia later this week and are likely to be welcome to a rousing reception after signing the most decorated Asian player in history but Park isn’t there to make up the numbers, in the same way QPR want to establish themselves as an integral team within the Premier League and in reality this signing sends out a strong message regarding the route the club wants to follow.
Not that Park will care one bit, as he’ll continue to go about his business in the same, unassuming way he has done for years, tirelessly chasing opponents up and down the pitch – just like a true professional does.