Wayne Rooney has hailed the influence of Park Ji-sung and other team players on Manchester United’s success during his time with the club.
Rooney was speaking about the dynamics of a team and how the squad players, those who do the less glamorous work on the pitch, are as important, if not more so, than the star name players.
The former Man United captain feels that Park, and others such as Darren Fletcher, were vital to the club’s success under Alex Ferguson.
“They — not stars — are the most important thing in sport”
Rooney states that the South Korean midfielder embodies everything one would want in a teammate, as he put the collective good ahead of any personal glory.
“It’s crazy but if you mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo to a 12-year-old, they would immediately say, ‘Yeah, he was a brilliant player for Manchester United,’ but if you said ‘Park Ji-sung’ they may not know who he was,” Rooney said in his column for The Sunday Times.
“Yet all of us who played with Park know he was almost as important to our success, that’s because of what Park gave to the collective. They — not stars — are the most important thing in sport.
“Fletch and Park played a huge role in our development as a side”
Park joined Man United from PSV Eindhoven in 2005 for just £4m. The midfielder became a utility player for the club in the best sense of the term. He could be deployed in almost any position and would excel. Park’s boundless energy, and incredible discipline, ensured his place in the United team for some of the club’s biggest matches. Ferguson knew he could fully trust the player to carry out his instructions.
“Look at the biggest games United played. Park or Fletch — or both — were always involved,” Rooney says.
“They were vital to us. Players like me, Ronaldo, Tevez got the headlines but they were as important as us if not more, because of what they did for the team. We knew that inside the dressing room — and also that because they were so good at sacrificing themselves, their actual individual quality was often overlooked. Fletch and Park played a huge role in our development as a side.”
“Your job is Pirlo. That’s all: Pirlo”
Rooney speaks about a Champions League tie between Manchester United and AC Milan in 2010 when Ferguson assigned Park a man-marking role on Andrea Pirlo. The Italian was one of the most gifted, and effective, midfield playmakers in the world, but struggled against Park’s intense shadowing throughout the game.
“I remember Fergie’s team talk before playing AC Milan,” Rooney says.
“He literally said to Park: “Your job today is not about touching the ball, it’s not about making passes, your job is Pirlo. That’s all: Pirlo.”
“At the time Andrea Pirlo was averaging 110 passes per game, something stupid like that, and out of those about 60-70 were forward passes – passes that could hurt you. He had this trick: when the ball came to him from the full-back, he would play it first time over your centre back’s head, for Andriy Shevchenko or Kaka to run through. Pirlo was the best I’ve seen at that pass.
“Park was so unbelievable at carrying out his orders”
“So Fergie said to Park: ‘He cannot be allowed that pass. You cannot be one yard or one second late.’ And I think Pirlo barely had 40 passes in that game, and 95 per cent were backwards because Park was so unbelievable at carrying out his orders. The rest of us appreciated that, physically and mentally, what Park managed to do that night was so difficult.”
Park ended up playing 205 times for Man United and scored 27 goals. He won four Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League during his time with the club before leaving to join Queens Park Rangers in 2012.
The South Korean became a cult hero with Man United supporters and earned the highest respect from his teammates and manager.