Disappointment For Park Ji-Sung But He's Still A Champion
It was a bitter-sweet night for Manchester United fans in South Korea. Ever since Barcelona were seen off in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, anticipation had been rising slowly in Seoul, Suwon and elsewhere in the Land of the Morning Calm that Park Ji-sung would become the first Asian to see his reflection in the European Cup. He did but not in the way that was expected.
Park played a big part in helping United get to Moscow. He starred in that semi-final victory against the Spanish giants and as United made their way to a tenth Premier League title, the Korean played an increasingly important role though he was absent when United lost 2-1 at Chelsea last month. History repeated itself in Moscow to the surprise of most observers.
It had been assumed that Park would start. It was never imagined that there would not even be a place on the sub’s bench for the player who played all 360 minutes of the Roma and Barca matches. Owen Hargreaves started on the right side of midfield in Park’s usual spot. The English midfielder was in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, “in great condition,” and a counter perhaps, to Chelsea’s physical presence in the middle. Fellow midfielders Nani, Anderson, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher were selected as subs.
Shock was such in South Korea that there were instant but mistaken stories of an injury sustained in training. Such as omission is heartbreaking for any player and Park is no different. While he is the first Asian player to become a UEFA Champions League winner, he never played in the final. He played a big part in getting the team there but had to watch in a gray suit as his team-mates climbed the stairs to the podium and lifted the famous old trophy.
That was the picture that the South Korean media wanted, a picture of Park lifting the giant cup, not in a suit on the pitch but in a red shirt, soaked by sweat and rain. That image would have served as avatars for countless numbers of Korean netizens for years to come.
Disappointment is natural. While even his biggest fans didn’t claim that he was an automatic starter for the club, it did seem as if he was well-placed outside that inner core. With United having the unusual end-of-season luxury of a full and fit array of midfielders and attackers to choose from, perhaps Park’s place wasn’t as solid as it looked.
The decision was Alex Ferguson’s. It is debatable whether he made the right one but it his job is to pick the players that he thinks will win the game and win the game they did, albeit by the slimmest of margins.
It is all about results. If John Terry had been lifting the trophy instead of his defensive partner in the England team, then there would certainly be an inquest into tactics and selection. As it is, the Red Devils lifted the trophy and the fact that they did so without Park Ji-sung is hugely sad for the player and his fans but that’s football. Park isn’t the first to deal with the situation and won’t be the last.
There have been calls among fans in South Korea for Park to leave. That is something for the player to decide. Being a squad player at the club brings the sight of silver but not always the touch. Whether that is enough for the 27 year-old, is a question that only he can answer. Park could easily play more next season but with Fergie set to splash the cash again this summer, the opposite could happen.
One thing is for sure though, Park Ji-sung is still a European champion, he has a medal and much to be proud of. Not only that, he has much to look forward to.