It is not as if Park Ji-Sung has been consistently poor in his time at Manchester United. The South Korean’s first season was okay and he has been an important part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s cultured approach in Europe. There’s no doubt about his effort and work rate. Park also appears a decent human being – no tabloid exposés, at least.
Still, circumstances dictate that it is time for goodbyes.
Various media reports put Park’s weekly wage in the neighborhood of £65,000. He is at best a squad player. In truth, Park has only played regularly in 2005/06 and 2008/09 seasons. It makes little sense to retain a £65,000-per-week-player who cannot get into the first team, especially with the spectre of Glazers’ debt looming over Old Trafford.
Considering that United bought the plater for around £4 million from PSV Eindhoven five years ago, the club is unlikely to find it difficult to make profit even in today’s depressed market.
One could argue that Park’s marketing prowess more than makes up for his relatively high wages but Asian players aren’t required for a club to be successful commercially in Asia. Barcelona do just fine in the region despite not having any Asian players. In fact, Park’s supposed commercial appeal, especially in his home country, is overblown. Of twenty three Manchester United sponsors, only two – Seoul and Kumho – hail from Korea.
Besides, United is a widely recognised club; the Korean sponsors are not likely to abandon the club, and the Korean fans won’t stop buying the replica shirts, just because there is no longer a Korean player in the United line up. With less than 2 per cent of United’s revenue hailing from overseas markets, there is no conclusive financial reason for keeping Park at the club.
Park is a modern player – his raison d’etre is to take on attacking full-backs and deep-lying playmakers, both thoroughly modern inventions in football. Ironically, it is Park’s willingness to defend that ultimately limits his usefulness. He is frequently deployed to mark someone out of the game, which severely limits Park’s usefulness in 442 even when in a nominally attacking position.
Even in more dynamic systems like 433, where incorporation of attacking midfielders is necessary, it is hard to justify his inclusion as a winger considering that Park is technically average and contributes little offensively. This is true, despite the South Korean’s goal in the Carling Cup last night.
Indeed, one can also make a moral argument that playing Park is a cowardly way out – United can peg back full-backs and deep-lying midfielders by attacking them!
There isn’t one right way to play football of course and United fans certainly don’t seem to care that the recent trophy haul has been brought about by a rather defensive, and one could say un-United, approach. But Park still remains an unattractive option even if United must play defensive wingers. Valencia and Nani are both far superior players offensively and they both put in a lot of work defensively. In the recent fixture against Stoke, for example, Nani made 17 tackles – the rest of the team only put in 25 combined.
Park has sometimes been played as a defensive attacking central midfielder, memorably in fixtures against Milan and Liverpool. But again, Anderson, who has long been deployed in such role, remains a more ‘attractive’ option.
Perhaps even more relevant to Park’s future is the timing of his departure. The midfielder is now 29 and will turn 30 before the end of current season. There has been a marked decline in his pace recently and the situation isn’t going to get any better. He is a surprisingly injury prone player who has suffered knee problems in recent seasons. It suggests the player is close to burnout through overuse.
It leaves United with an expensive player whose physical attributes are on the wane and usefulness in the squad limited. The smart thing to do is sell, after all Park’s value in the transfer market can only decrease.
An overly cynical approach perhaps but humanity isn’t often found in modern football landscape.