Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Manager Alex Ferguson rejected the theory that midfielder Park Ji-Sung was signed merely to increase Manchester United's popularity in the Far East. Ji-Sung arrived at United for £4 million in 2005 but until this season rarely looked like establishing himself as part of Ferguson's first-choice XI.
Undoubtedly, though, Ji-Sung's United connection has brought the Red Devils huge commercial spin-offs, with a million club credit cards currently in use in South Korea and two hugely successful pre-season trips to Seoul helping to cement them in the country's affections. However, for Ferguson, this was a peripheral issue.
Even though he left Ji-Sung out of his squad completely for the 2008 Champions League final, Ferguson always felt the energetic player - who first came to prominence with his performances in a Champions League semifinal against AC Milan for PSV Eindhoven in 2005 — had a major role to play for his team.
And now, in the system that fits Wayne Rooney so well, Ferguson has found Park to be ideally suited as well.
"I didn't think that Ji-Sung was bought just to sell shirts," said Ferguson.
"When I went to see him play in those Champions League semifinals for PSV in 2005, I thought this is a player who understands football. He is intelligent and disciplined and he can play different positions. I had no issues about that at all.
"Someone is always going to take a runner on something like selling shirts. But you could say that about every player we have signed."
Anyone heading to the club Megastore for a Ji-Sung shirt on Sunday was not doing it because of his nationality.
After scoring important goals against Arsenal and Milan already this year, the 29-year-old Ji-Sung added another to his tally, hurling himself at Darren Fletcher's curling cross to give United a vital victory over Liverpool last Sunday at Old Trafford.
"It was a great feeling to score against Liverpool," he said.
"Derby matches are very important games, so to score the winner in one is a fantastic feeling. Doing it in front of the Stretford End was unbelievable."
It was Ji-Sung's 15th goal in 145 appearances for United and given Chelsea failed to beat Blackburn at Ewood Park, gave his side priceless breathing space in the title race.
Given their goal difference advantage over second-placed Arsenal, United are aware six wins from their remaining seven games, plus a draw from the crunch encounter with Chelsea at Old Trafford on April 3, could be enough to give them an unprecedented fourth championship on the trot and19th overall — one more than Liverpool's longstanding record.
And Ji-Sung is eager to help them.
"I want to score more goals for United and it doesn't matter who they are against. I know I should score more goals. I feel good scoring against the big teams like Arsenal, Milan and Liverpool, but I want that experience more often," he said.
He has now developed a big game mentality and regularly turns into an effective playing machine in key matches. He is now an important cog in the Manchester United game plan, be it in the Premiership title run in this season or the Champions League knock out stages.
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