Manchester United’s performance on Sunday afternoon in the title face-off against Chelsea epitomised everything Sir Alex Ferguson has built at Old Trafford. The Red Devils have so often been at their determined best on the big occasions and one man in particular typifies this. South Korean Park Ji-Sung is an unspectacular player, but his work-ethic, selflessness, and general habit of popping up with hugely important goals has made him Sir Alex’s go-to man for the big occasions.
Park is the picture of professionalism and loyalty. It is clear that his attitude makes him a manager’s dream. He may not always get the plaudits for his work, but his harrying of the opposition and willingness to do anything and play anywhere for the team is an excellent commodity. Indeed, United have always been known for playing attacking football under Ferguson, but this current side, which perhaps does not possess the world-class attacking quality of previous years, does possess plenty of steel, determination, and genuine work-rate. Sir Alex has shown over the past few years that he has his favourites when it comes to the big games, the players he trusts will do the job for the team – and that is exactly where Park comes in.
Against Chelsea on Sunday, Park seemed to be everywhere. Always pressing Chelsea’s midfield as well as linking up with the forwards, making it hard to nail down just what position he was playing – it seemed his was occupying three or four. But he is more than just a nuisance. He sets the tempo for his team, gives shape to the midfield and picks up dangerous positions when going forward – as exemplified when assisting Javier Hernandez’ opener. It was a massively significant moment for the Red Devils, knocking the stuffing out of Chelsea so early on, and it is something Park is well-renowned for.
When United fans reminisce about Park when retires, they will have so many moments to choose from when retelling what a good player he was. Most players can point to one or two games in which they were inspired and produced a match-winning performance or goal in an important game, but Park has many such moments. A Champions League semi-final goal away at Arsenal in 2009, his winner against Liverpool in 2010, man of the match display in the 2008 semi-final victory over Barelona, and of course the second goal in the 2-1 Champions League quarter-final win over Chelsea last month, to name a few.
It is perhaps telling that Park is preferred to play in games such as Sunday’s crunch clash instead of the more enigmatic and talented Nani. The Portuguese winger has been in excellent form this season – scoring nine and assisting 18 in the Premier League alone – yet he has found himself relegated to the bench in favour of the more workmanlike Park and Antonio Valencia for the big games. It is again that question of trust, something Sir Alex perhaps does not have in the Portuguese winger because you are never quite sure what you are going to get.
With Park, you know exactly what you will get. Not only will he offer his outstanding commitment to the cause, but he will deliver.