By Josephine H. Kim
UW News Lab
Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham. … These names definitely ring a bell with those that are the least bit familiar with soccer.
What about Ji Sung Park? Is he considered a legend?
“I want to push my way through [Manchester’s] star players and put my name on the list of the best 11 team,” Park said in his 2006 autobiography, “Neverending Challenge.” “I want to show the world how good Korean players are by playing well in the top flight.”
So far, he is on the right track.
Manchester United will play on Wednesday, July 20, at Qwest Field. The Sounders will host them, and a big turnout is expected.
Midfielder for Manchester United of the Premier League, at age 30, Park is already retired — from international football at least. Manchester is a professional team, drawing players from around the globe, as opposed to a national team.
After serving as captain of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Team, Park passed his instrumental spot along to younger players. In a May interview with The Sun, a British tabloid, Park said, “It was the right time to retire. Our national team has some young players who need a chance to play.” Nonetheless, many fans were sad to say goodbye.
To name a couple of his accomplishments, Park is the first South Korean to have won the UEFA Champions League, which is considered to be the most prestigious club competition. He is also the first South Korean, second Asian, to have scored in three consecutive FIFA World Cups.
FIFA.com named Park the Best Asian Player in Europe in 2007. In 2005, he was a nominee for the Ballon d’Or, which can be considered the “Oscar” of soccer.
Park also was the first Asian captain in Manchester United history. Ironically, to everyone’s surprise, Park was once rejected from his own country’s K-League, something the league is probably regretting.
In South Korea, Park is like a deity.
Often, he can’t step out of an airport without being bombarded by fans. He can’t go out to dinner without creating foot traffic. He receives fan mail in bulk. He is a superstar.
“I actually don’t like being a famous person. I just want to be a normal person,” Park said in the Sun article. “When I’m back in my country, it’s like being David Beckham. But it’s like that for David Beckham all over the world. It must be more difficult for him than for me.”
He advertises razors, has a documentary, has sparked South Korean interest in soccer, and he even posed for GQ Korea magazine in August 2009.
According to Forbes, Manchester United is the most valuable team in the world, and for South Korea, having one of its own join in that prestige makes Park an idol.
Before the 2002 FIFA World Cup, in which the South Korean national team finished fourth, they were not a name in international football. Park created a new path for future South Korean football players, proof that they too can make it.
“He’s a national hero. I was obsessed with him when I was little. He’s short for a soccer player, and so am I. So I thought, since he can, I can, too,” says D.H. Kim, a student at the University of Washington.
“Park Ji Sung is a great example of how a talented and hardworking player has become successful,” said Sigi Schmid, Seattle Sounders coach, at a practice last Friday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. “He was my top pick when I was with the L.A. Galaxy. Soccer is a universal language. It is great to see the support of the Korean community for their players.”
The buzz is big for the exhibition game on July 20. Eric Friberg, a midfielder for the Sounders, comes from Sweden. “As a kid, I watched every Manchester United game,” said Friberg. “I’m a fan and it is an honor to play with them. … Park Ji Sung is a very important player for the Manchester United. When they need to win, he needs to play.” ♦
For ticket information, visit www.soundersfc.com.
By Josephine H. Kim is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.