March 22, 2010: What a credit Park Ji Sung is to his club, country and to Asian football!
Anyone who watched the Manchester United-Liverpool match live from Old Trafford on Sunday could not have failed to notice another astonishing performance from the all-action Korean midfielder.
The crowning glory, of course, was his superb diving header to seal United's 2-1 victory, hurling himself where the boots were flying and making the net bulge at the famous Stretford End. It really was a proud moment for Park, and no doubt for many people who have played a big part in his development and rise to stardom.
One of those would be Pim Verbeek. I interviewed Pim fairly recently at Saitama Stadium about Park, and the Dutchman said Park had been given a rough ride when first arriving at PSV Eindhoven from Kyoto Purple Sanga.
Basically, the more refined and technically sophisticated Dutch players thought Park did not run like a footballer, did not look like a professional footballer and did not play like a footballer. In the end, though, Park won them over with his attitude, his commitment to training, his energy on the pitch and his selfless running for the team. He could, in fact, play a bit, too, and his Champions League performances in the semi-finals against Milan one season played a big part in his move to Old Trafford.
And while he still looks a bit rough around the edges, giving the ball away carelessly and occasionally running up a blind alley and losing possession, his link-up play with Fletcher and Carrick made sure United dominated most of the game against Liverpool.
What I really admire about Park is how he puts himself between ball and opponent, not afraid to take the hits from behind and the studs down his ankles. He uses his body so well to protect the ball, and once he is in that position it makes it very difficult for an opponent to take it off him. This is why he wins so many free kicks, as any touch from an opponent coming in from behind is a foul.
In that same conversation with Pim, the Dutch coach said that, technically, Park was not in the same class as Nakata, Ono and Nakamura, but his physical stamina, energy and team ethic had taken him beyond the achievements of Japan's talented trio. Sunday's fantastic winner was yet another example of this.