As a symbol of national pride and success, South Korea and Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung, carries more weight on his shoulders than the need to perform.
Park, once rejected from his country’s own K-League, is now considered the ambassador of Korean football. A responsibility he seems to able carry. “I want to push my way through Manchester United’s star players and put my name on the list of the best 11 team. Park Ji-Sung talks to CNN “I want to show the world how good Korean players are by playing well in the top flight,” Park wrote in his book “Neverending Challenge” before he joined United. Park’s autobiography, which illustrates his life as a football player since he started out at the age of ten, became a bestseller after being published in 2006. It is no surprise. Park is a celebrity in South Korea and is swamped with fans wherever he goes. His hometown, Suwon, near to Seoul, built a park and named a road after Park to commemorate him becoming the first Premier League-r in South Korean history.
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Park may even become the first Asian to win a Championship League medal after this season. Nicknamed “Three-lung Park” for his seemingly overflowing energy supply, the South Korean papers plaster their front pages with Park if he scores and give out the smallest details of how many minutes he ran in each match. But Park’s football career had not really drawn much attention until the recent years. He was mostly unknown to the public until he scored the winning goal to defeat Portugal in the 2002 World Cup in which South Korea reached the semifinals for the first time ever. “People like him because there’s a touching story behind him,” football commentator Park Moon Sung at SBS, one of Korea’s major broadcasters, said. “They can see how this player, who never really got much attention, is maturing over the years.” The South Korea player, after receiving no calls from the K-League, started his professional career in Japan with Kyoto Purple in 2000. It was only after the 2002 World Cup that he joined PSV Eindhoven and proceeded to join Manchester United in 2005. Park has so far managed to keep his private life out of spotlight, most likely due to his quiet personality, a quality that is also reflected in his performances. “He’s someone who pumps energy into the entire team. He’s not like a magician who can save the team from its worst moments with dazzling skills,” the SBS commentator said. “It’s more like he plays for the others and brings the team together which is something very much needed in a team like Manchester United with all its stars.” Park’s joining of Manchester United has enriched the football culture in Korea. Many who started watching European games because of Park have now become avid fans. “I would like Park Ji-Sung to become a symbol of challenge for all Koreans,” 30-year-old Kim Young Woo, who is a great fan of Park, said. Kim said he admires Park for never giving up and admits to watching at least 70 percent of all Manchester United games even if it means staying up until three in the morning on weekdays.
“I think young people will look at him and tell themselves that they want to take on challenges, too,” Kim said. Something Park wants to see as well. The midfielder signed on a deal to build a Park Ji-Sung football center in his hometown fully equipped with training areas and football fields. He believes there should be a better future for Korean football.