With Asia's backing, Park eyes Euro glory at Man U

Published May. 26, 2011 6:12 a.m. EDT

Park Ji-sung will be hoping it is third time lucky on Saturday when he continues his quest to become the first Asian footballer to collect a Champions League winners' medal.

After failing to make the bench in the 2008 final, when Manchester United beat Chelsea, the South Korean was part of the side that was comprehensively beaten by Barcelona a year later.

Now, fresh from winning a fourth Premier League title, the energetic midfielder has a chance to make amends against the Spanish side at Wembley Stadium.

And he will have the backing of a continent where fans are set to stay up into the night to watch club football's showpiece match.


''The day after is Sunday so they can rest then,'' Park said at United's training ground. ''I have to make people from my country happy and that means I have to win and perform very well ... if I play I will be the only Asian player in the Champions League final.''

Little wonder then that the Old Trafford mail room is so full of parcels for him, even rivaling star striker Wayne Rooney's haul of fan-mail.

''They send me everything from food, clothes, sweets,'' Park said. ''I have been sent money before because the notes in South Korea changed and they sent me the new ones so that I could see them because I'm living here. Maybe they're worried I'll forget about home!''

They certainly can't forget his 30-year-old face, even if the limelight doesn't fit comfortably with him.

''It's difficult to deal with being stopped in the street,'' he said. ''Asian culture is that people are quite excited about the players, but most of the time I'm in England and its only holidays that I'm at home.

''I actually don't like being a famous person, but I play for Manchester United so I get that attention and there aren't many Asian players in Europe or the Premier League, so that's more attention for me and I have to play better than other players in Europe.''

Park has certainly proved that his 2005 signing from PSV Eindhoven was no marketing ploy, becoming an integral part of Alex Ferguson's midfield with his tireless performances.

''My role is to run a lot and bring energy to the team,'' he reflected before the team headed south to London. ''My position is that I have to attack as well, not only run a lot but when I get chances I should finish.''

Park could be key to stifling the impact of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in Barcelona's midfield, as well as the attacking threat that will be posed by Lionel Messi who has netted 52 times this season.

''One man can't stop him, he can do anyone one against one so we have to play as a team,'' Park said. ''It's not just my job, everyone has the responsibility to keep an eye on him.''

Chronic knee injuries forced South Korea's former captain to retire from international duty after winning his 100th cap at the Asian Cup in January.

Now he is completely focused on his prolonging his United career.

''It was the right time to retire for everything, for me physically and our national team to have some young players who need a chance to play,'' he said. ''If I played a lot they wouldn't have the chance and they need to improve because the World Cup is in 2014.''

Park still hopes to be playing for United then, but he is already envisaging the day he can return to South Korea to enjoy a life of relative anonymity

''Even though I am famous when I finish my career my fame will be decreased so it will be more relaxed at home,'' he said. ''I left my country for 11 or 12 years and I miss it so I will definitely go back there ... I just want to be a normal person.''

A Champions League winners' medal might make that tougher.


Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarrisUK