How it felt to miss the Champions League final
On this week’s episode of UTD Podcast, club hero Ji-sung Park recalls the moment he was told about his omission from our squad for the 2008 Champions League triumph in Moscow, Russia.
When looking back on that iconic night in the pouring rain of the Russian capital, you may recall seeing Park sporting a full grey suit during the post-match celebrations.
This was after the midfielder had come down from watching the game in the stands, having not been named as part of the matchday squad for the final.
UTD Podcast: When Park missed out on Moscow
Ji was famously omitted from our 2008 Champions League final squad and, as he says, it was extremely tough to take...
After playing every minute in both legs against Roma in the quarter-finals and Barcelona in the semi-finals, the omission came as a surprise to many 13 years ago, including the South Korean himself.
Speaking during his guest appearance on the latest episode of the UTD Podcast, now available to listen to in full on our Official App, Park speaks about the moment Sir Alex Ferguson told him that he would unfortunately not be in the squad for the tournament’s final.
“First, I couldn’t believe it. The day, in the morning, he called me, we had a meeting in that he said to me, ‘you’re not involved’.
“When I heard that, I was shocked. I don’t remember after that what he said, so I thought, ‘yeah, I’m not going to play today, but I’m still involved?’ I didn’t remember because I was shocked.
“I realised when I got to the stadium, into the dressing room, I saw that there wasn’t my shirt, then I just go ‘oh, I’m not in the squad today’.
“I don’t know how I can say it, I was very, very disappointed. All my family was there, my whole country was looking for that because I play the semi-final. They were expecting that I would play the final, even probably on the bench. But I wasn’t in the squad.
“I said, ‘how can I deal with this? I don’t know’. First half, I didn’t know how I could watch the match. I was there but I didn’t know what was going on. Probably from the second half I was back to my normal and just focus on the match.
“There is no choice as a player if you’re not involved in the squad, it’s the manager’s decision, you have to follow it,” he added.
“I just thought, ‘What was my problem? Why wasn’t I involved in the squad? What should I have to be involved in that squad?’ I was just thinking that way, and probably next time I won’t be sitting like this, I have to be there [on the pitch].
“He explained why [he left me out] in the morning. He said he was going to play Owen Hargreaves because he had the experience of the final of the Champions League.
“I was thinking, ‘I won’t have it, if I don’t get it’ [laughs]. But it’s his decision, I can’t complain about that and then actually we won the Champions League, so his decision is right.”
However, Barcelona’s emergence as winners on that occasion casted a cloud over what would have been a special evening for the midfielder, as he discusses with our UTD Podcast co-hosts Helen Evans, Sam Homewood and David May.
“No, I didn’t enjoy the 2009 final more because I played. Even though I played, we lost," Park says.
“It’s a difficult one to explain. Last year [in 2008], I didn’t play, and we won the Champions League. This year [in 2009], I played and we didn’t.
“It’s kind of mixed feelings. Yeah, I played a Champions League final, it means a lot to me, to Asia, I was the first Asian player to play in a Champions League final.
“But something was missing from not lifting the trophy. Even though I played the Champions League final for 90 minutes, if we didn’t get the trophy then it doesn’t mean nothing.”
Park and co would go on to meet the La Liga side again in 2011, this time at Wembley, in our third final in four years, but again it was Pep Guardiola's side that would go on to lift the trophy, winning 3-1.
The midfielder again earned his place in the starting XI, this time off the back of some key performances en route to the final in the capital, and it was a game he again approached with his uplifting mindset.
“Every time we met Barcelona, every player, every team, should think of the positive way. ‘This time, we are going to win, we have a plan, we prepared well’. We are not about to lose the game before we play.
“We thought that this time we would lift the trophy, we prepared with that. But the result is not like that, we just did what we could do. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get it, twice, against the same team which is very painful and disappointing. But that’s football. It happens.
“That team was probably the best team against the best team. It was a shame, in England at Wembley, English club, it seemed perfect, but life is not always what we imagine.
“But I really appreciate what we did in that period of time, three finals in four years. That was good, but not enough to get the trophies.”