Posted January. 21, 2009 08:01,
Is he here to sell Manchester United uniforms in Korea?
This was the question British soccer fans asked when Park Ji-sung joined United in 2005. Former Korea coach Guus Hiddink even expressed concern that Parks move to England might have been premature, despite having deep respect for the midfielder.
Four years later, fans and pundits have a drastically changed view of Park. The Dong-A Ilbos analysis of his average playing time per game from his first year with United to the past few weeks has found that Park is a major player in the worlds top-ranked soccer league.
○ Rise to starter in big games
In his first season at United in 2005-06, Park made the roster in 40 games of the Premier League, FA Cup and Carling Cup but was left out of Champions League action.
He started six of 14 games against the top seven clubs (based on final season rankings), playing 39.8 minutes on average per match.
In comparison, he made the roster in 13 matches versus five low-ranking clubs, starting 10 and averaging 68.2 minutes per game.
Thus, Park played mostly in matches versus low ranking clubs rather than the leagues Big Three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool early in his United career.
He played in 24 games in 2006-07 and 17 last season due to a number of injuries big and small. He did appear more against strong teams in those seasons, however.
Park made the roster in six matches versus the top seven clubs in the 2006-07 season, and started four of them. He also started four of the seven matches he played in against the top clubs last season.
This season, however, Park has fully arrived as a key United player. He has played in all seven matches versus the top seven clubs (based on rankings as of Jan. 20) this season, starting five of them and averaging 58.6 minutes per match.
Park also played in all three matches against the Big Three, averaging 84.7 minutes per game. In comparison, he played in four of seven matches versus low-ranking teams, averaging 46.3 minutes per game.
○ Still evolving
The midfielder is consolidating his status as a big-game player in performance as well.
Early after his Premiership debut, he was oftentimes less than impressive.
In the 2005-06 season, Park received the lowest player rating of four from Sky Sports in a 3-0 loss to Chelsea that secured the league title for the Blues.
This season, however, Park scored his teams only goal in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea in their first meeting. In the second, he earned a rating of eight, the second highest among his teammates, as United cruised to victory, 3-0.
Parks upgraded status in his club is also demonstrated by his play in the Champions League. He made the roster for all eight matches in the 2005-06 season but did not start in any of the games.
Last season, however, he played the full 90 minutes in four Champions League matches, including the quarterfinal versus AS Roma and the semifinal versus FC Barcelona.
Park, however, has plenty of competition for his position of attacking midfielder, namely from Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Luis Nani and Zoran Tosic. He also must score more goals, hitting the back of the net just once this season.
Nonetheless, Park has proven wrong the naysayers who originally brushed him off as a marketing ploy to sell more United shirts in Korea and Asia.