Park Ji-Sung has called time on his illustrious career and exits the game at 33, after becoming Asia's most successful player ever.
The former Manchester United star succumbed to a continuous knee injury and retires as the first Asian player to both win and play in a Champions League final. Park acknowledged the fitness problem that ended his career during a press conference in his hometown of Suwon, reported by the AFP (via FIFA.com):
"I've come to the conclusion that I cannot go on any longer," said Park. "Because of my weak knee, I don't think I could last another season."
Despite ending his successful stint in Europe prematurely, the decorated and immensely hard-working midfielder finishes without repent, noted in FIFA's article:
"I have no regrets about my career," he said. "I do think about what might have been if I hadn't been injured, but I have no feelings of disappointment or sorrow as I leave the sport."
Park joined Kyoto Purple Sanga in 2000 after making an impression with South Korea's under-23 Olympic team. He spent three years at the Japanese club before heading to Europe, where Guus Hiddink arranged a move to PSV Eindhoven.
One of Park's career highlights came during the 2002 World Cup, hosted in South Korea/Japan. Needing a win to progress through the group stage in front of an ecstatic local crowd, Park scored a late winner against Portugal to confirm South Korea's safe passage. The team would be eliminated in the semi-final, a tremendous result for a nation that massively enhanced its footballing reputation with the success.
Park's initial stint with PSV yielded two Eredivisie titles and the KNVB Cup. Although his tenure at Old Trafford was interrupted by injuries, his industrious nature and tremendous work-rate saw him become something of a specialist for Sir Alex Ferguson.
If the Scottish manager needed to mark an opposing star out of the game, Park would suffocate their every move. He played on the wings, just behind the striker, and could even float from central midfield, often sacrificing himself to allow United's more incisive attackers—including Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs—to burst forward with speed.
Andrea Pirlo recalled the moment Ferguson set Park loose in his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, per Sam Wallace of The Independent:
On one of the many occasions when our paths crossed during my time at Milan, he unleashed Park Ji Sung to shadow me. The midfielder must have been the first nuclear powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron.
Park left Old Trafford in 2012 after winning a quartet of Premier League titles, three League Cups, the Community Shield, Champions League and Club World Cup. While his European final win came in 2008, a match Park missed, he became the first Asian representative to appear in the Champions League final the following year.
The fondly remembered player left United with 203 appearances and 27 goals under his belt, per FIFA.com.
He moved to Queens Park Rangers in July 2012, but like many signed by Harry Redknapp, he struggled to make a positive impression. The club captain, whose injuries continued to toil, was relegated with the Hoops during his first season at Loftus Road.
A loan return to PSV followed for the 2013-14 season, where Park made 25 appearances across all competitions, per ESPN FC. He scored two goals and was substituted during his last match on May 3, a 2-0 win over NAC Breda.
Park's trailblazing career helped pave the way for many more Asian stars to shine in Europe. He appeared in three World Cups and even received a Ballon d'Or nomination in 2005, signifying his dominance rather succinctly.
South Korea head into the 2014 World Cup with an outside chance of making an impression. Matches against Algeria, Belgium and Russia await in a competitive group that Hong Myung-bo's team are certainly capable of escaping.
Although Park called time on his international career in 2011, his countrymen will want to honour a glittering career with a stellar showing in Brazil.
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