Farewell, Park

Knee problems force ex-Man United player 
to retire at 33

He has four English Premier League titles, two Dutch championships and a Uefa Champions League winners' medal.

However, South Korean football star Park Ji Sung gave himself only a modest seven over 10 for his achievements yesterday when he announced his retirement from football.

Addressing the media at his Park Ji Sung Football Centre in Suwon, on the outskirts of Seoul, the 33-year-old, said: "I was 
so lucky.

"I have achieved more than I ever thought I would.

"I'm truly grateful for all the support I have received and I will live the rest of my life thinking how I can pay it back."

On the stage in front of him, his father had dressed mannequins in the jerseys of all Park's previous teams - from elementary, middle and high school, through to Myongji University, J-League club Kyoto Purple Sanga, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United and Queens Park Rangers.


Park, who was earned nicknames like The Oxygen Tank and Three-Lunged Park for his tireless displays, cited knee problems for hanging up his boots.

Park had indeed come a long way since his formative years when he was a quiet, scrawny kid struggling to compete against bigger, stronger players.

His father was so worried about his diminutive build that he made him drink boiled frog extract to help him grow.

Not many youth coaches would have given Park a chance of succeeding at the elite level, but his coaches at Suwon Technical High School did.

Whether it was his constant battles with bigger opponents, or a desire to prove his doubters wrong, or even the effects of the frog juice, Park worked harder, ran further, practised longer than anyone else.

He dedicated himself to improving his close control, his touch and passing, and built up his stamina.

After university, Park left for Japan and guided Kyoto to the J-League's second division title in 2001, and the Emperor's Cup in 2002, but it was during the World Cup on home soil that year when his star shone brightest.

Park flourished under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, the Dutch master who led the South Koreans to a historic semi-final spot.

"The proudest moment for me was, of course, the 2002 World Cup," said Park, whose goal against Portugal sealed their spot in the knockout stage for the 
first time.

"The most influential figure in my life is Guus Hiddink. He took me abroad after the World Cup and that was the turning point of my life."

Park joined Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven after the World Cup, and after a slow start, took the Dutch league 
by storm.


His all-action style caught the eye of then Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, who shelled out £4 million (then $11.7m) to buy him in 2005.

While some believed he would be no more than an expensive substitute at United, Park soon won the sceptics over with his dynamic forays on the flanks and selfless playing style.

He would also suffer one of the biggest disappointments of his career when he was surprisingly dropped for the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea despite having played every minute of the quarter- and semi-finals.

Ferguson called it the hardest decision of his career. Park said he was happy the team won and that he would have other opportunities in big games.

A year later, Park lined up for Manchester United against Barcelona at Rome's Olympic Stadium, becoming the first South Korean to play in a Champions League final.

Park said he would still be involved with South Korean football in some capacity, but ruled out the possibility of following his mentor Hiddink into management.

"I have no intention of becoming a coach," he added.

"I'll probably think about becoming an expert in sports administration, that's just one possibility.

"But I will do anything I can to help South Korean soccer advance and develop." - Reuters.

The proudest moment for me was, of course, the 2002 World Cup. The most influential figure in my life is Guus Hiddink. He took me abroad after the World Cup and that was the turning point of my life.

— Park Ji Sung