Steve Bartram pays tribute to the intangible influence of Ji-sung Park...
Amid the slow-motion horror of watching England fail to address the ambling majesty of Andrea Pirlo in Kiev last month, it was hard to fend off memories of Ji-sung Park nullifying the little Italian.
In United’s 2010 Champions League visit to San Siro, the Seoul destroyer had demonstrated precisely how to play the miniature maestro, then of Milan: take his baton and snap it in half.
Park was deployed as an advanced man-marker, detailed with following Pirlo about the field and essentially reducing the game to a 10 v 10 spectacle. While United made a slow start and shipped an early goal, Park’s stifling of Pirlo bought time for the Reds to hit their stride. They gradually did so and went on to register their maiden victory over the Rossoneri on their own patch.
The Korean hardly touched the ball, yet his impact on the game was greater than almost every other player on the field. The match statistics showed that Pirlo made roughly 20 successful passes, when his average had been around 70. With his disciplined task, Park had been anonymously devastating.
When the teams reconvened at Old Trafford, he demonstrated the other side of his penchant for high-stakes games, scoring the third goal as United romped to victory, then heading the winner against Liverpool 10 days later to cement his status as a fans' favourite.
Park had enjoyed a warm status among United supporters since his 2005 arrival from PSV Eindhoven. Grafters quickly burrow their way into the affections of the Red Army, and the South Korean’s sweat-soaked Premier League bow at Everton clinched Sky Sports’ man of the match award and made a lasting first impression.
But the whirring, madcap endeavours of a player branded ‘Three-lung Park’ and ‘Ji force’ in some circles often served to mask the equally valuable subtleties in his game. A versatile, tactically astute player at home in various formations