Park Ji-Sung; discipline + intelligence + energy = perfect for Europe
Park Ji-Sung might represent something of an enigma as a footballer; but very few actually have a bad word to say about him. And Park, while he isn’t going to be short-listed for any individual awards any time soon, is as much a one-in-a-million player as his prize-winning counterparts. Ability is one thing in this game – having the correct temperament and discipline to apply that to the game of football in another. Park has done just that; and his presence on the field screams a determined player with discipline in abundance.
He might look your average player, but he isn’t – searing pace and mesmerising footwork desert him but he offers more to Manchester United. Off the ball, Park is just as good as any other without a hint of hyperbole, his movement and tendency to track back is as much admirable as it is useful. Something that has been evident in Europe in the Uefa Champions League.
Here’s an interesting statistic – Park Ji-Sung has featured in eight of Manchester United’s eleven games in Europe this season. Yet, in stark contrast, the efficient South Korean has made just 12 appearances from a possible 34 in the Premier League (of course, partly down to International commitments). It is conclusive from that, that Park is primarily used in Europe because he is perhaps more suited to the style of football and that there is more concentration on keeping possession and being compact. That’s not to say his league performances haven’t been good, because they generally have, the 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton back in November sticking in memory, where he snatched a brace at the stroke of either half.
However, Europe is where Park has thrived in particular, and against Schalke 04 on Tuesday night he embodied everything that Sir Alex is trying to achieve with an excellent performance which saw his defensive abilities noted as much as what he did in the opponents’ half. His movement is somewhat overlooked but it shouldn’t be – it’s a key asset and possibly the most important part of his game. And he offers more.
Sir Alex said recently of the player known as ‘three-lungs’: ”He’s got the discipline, intelligence and football knowledge you need in the biggest games. Discipline is so much more important in the Champions League, and you need a slightly different type of discipline in Europe.”
His tag as a ‘big-name player’ has much to do with this ‘discipline’ of his that Sir Alex recognises so well – and the boss then, much to my delight, points out his movement and notes its effectiveness: “When you pick teams for big games you need a core of discipline and he’s one of the players who can give you that. And he’s a fantastic professional,” says Fergie. “He moves and plays and moves again. That’s the asset he’s got. He doesn’t watch what other players are doing with the ball, he gets himself into another position so he can be involved again. That’s his value to us; he can be really important.”
Whether it’s the clever runs he makes or the position he assumes when United are in possession of the ball, he displays a know-how for the game and United’s system, making him as tactically-astute as any other great player, which ties in with Sir Alex’s point about his ‘intelligence’ being a real factor in his game. It makes him the player he is. And if United do go and capture another Champions League title this campaign, then part of it has much to do with this quiet, but effective, South Korean midfielder.
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They don’t call him “three-lungs” for nothing
<Figure 1> Note his movement against Schalke, the arrows towards the top centre of the diagram showing how deep he picks up the ball and receives his passes. Towards the right hand side of the diagram, it shows Park picking the ball up in a very deep position, well inside his own half. This performance typifies what Park is – great movement, constantly tracking back, all complimented by his excellent work-rate. He isn’t called three-lungs for nothing, you know.