Wayne Rooney celebrates a goal against AS Roma in 2008 with Ji-sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo

Rooney: Park was as important as Ronaldo

Monday 18 May 2020 14:25

Club legend Wayne Rooney has claimed that Ji-sung Park was arguably as important to Manchester United's great side of 2006-09 as he and Cristiano Ronaldo were.

Writing in his fascinating column in The Sunday Times, Rooney drew comparisons between Sir Alex Ferguson's side of the late noughties and the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls basketball team– the subject of popular new Netflix documentary The Last Dance.
The Reds' all-time record goalscorer explained that, while he, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez drew much of the acclaim during the period, their success would not have been possible if players like Park and Darren Fletcher had not repeatedly delivered incredible, selfless feats of concentration and discipline.

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"It’s crazy but if you mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo to a 12-year-old, they would immediately say, 'Yeah, he was a brilliant player for Manchester United,'" wrote Rooney.
“But if you said 'Ji-sung Park' they may not know who he was. Yet all of us who played with Park know he was almost as important to our success.
“That’s because of what Park gave to the collective and I want to talk about teams. They — not stars — are the most important thing in sport.”
The former England captain went on to talk about his earlier experiences at Everton, where the team would sometimes struggle to control games because players would leave their positions – particularly in midfield – which would mean the rest of the team would have to cover and often lose its defensive shape.
But at United, Rooney and his team-mates knew they could rely on the modesty of their less celebrated team-mates. The Merseyside-born star used a match against AC Milan in 2010 as an example.
“Fletch and Park played a huge role in our development as a side. I remember Fergie’s team talk before playing AC Milan. He literally said to Park: 'Your job today is not about touching the ball, it’s not about making passes, your job is Pirlo. That’s all: Pirlo.'
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“At the time Andrea Pirlo was averaging 110 passes per game, something stupid like that, and out of those, about 60-70 were forward passes, passes that could hurt you. He had this trick: when the ball came to him from the full-back, he would play it first time over your centre-back’s head, for Andriy Shevchenko or Kaka to run through. Pirlo was the best I’ve seen at that pass.
“So Fergie said to Park: 'He cannot be allowed that pass. You cannot be one yard or one second late.' And I think Pirlo barely had 40 passes in that game, and 95 per cent were backwards because Park was so unbelievable at carrying out his orders. The rest of us appreciated that, physically and mentally, what Park managed to do that night was so difficult.”
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United won that tie 7-2 on aggregate – with Park scoring in the second leg – and, later, in his autobiography I Think Therefore I Play, Pirlo memorably wrote about what a frustrating time he had experienced against the South Korean.
“At Milan, he [Ferguson] unleashed Park Ji-sung to shadow me. He rushed about at the speed of an electron. He'd fling himself at me, his hands all over my back, trying to intimidate me. He'd look at the ball and not know what it was for.
“They'd programmed him to stop me. His devotion to the task was almost touching. Even though he was a famous player, he consented to being used as a guard dog.”
Rooney admits that while the public remembers the United team of that era as being stuffed with superb individual players, their game plan was mostly built around hard work, organisation and devastating speed on the break.
“People say our United team had all these great players,” he continued. “In reality our biggest strength was as a pure counterattacking machine. We would sit back in our shape, win the ball and just go.
“Park or Fletch — or both — were always involved. They were vital to us. Players like me, Ronaldo, Tevez got the headlines but they [Park and Fletcher] were as important as us if not more, because of what they did for the team. We knew that inside the dressing room — and also that because they were so good at sacrificing themselves, their actual individual quality was often overlooked.”

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