x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Park Ji-sung, the South Korea captain, has gift of versatility

Park Ji-sung has inadvertently created a culture of 'gift envy' at his club Manchester United with his morning delivery of tributes from fans.

Park Ji-sung, right, has helped SOuth Korea to an Asian Cup semi-final against Japan.
Park Ji-sung, right, has helped SOuth Korea to an Asian Cup semi-final against Japan.

Park Ji-sung, the South Korea captain, has inadvertently created a culture of "gift envy" at his club.

Each morning, a delivery truck arrives at Manchester United's Carrington training ground containing boxes of tributes for the club's first South Korean player.

There are bigger names and better players, plus individuals who earn double Park's £65,000 (Dh381,500) a week salary in the United dressing room.

But Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov or Ryan Giggs do not receive a fraction of the presents from his homeland bestowed on the versatile attacker.

As he is out on the training pitch, diligent club officials pile them outside Park's locker.

He seems bemused and even embarrassed by the offerings which come with the status of being the most famous South Korean footballer, but his eager teammates encourage him to open them, usually revealing intricately wrapped biscuits and chocolates.

They joke that he is keeping the international courier industry afloat in tough times.

Their main concern before he left for Doha this month was not to wish him well in his quest to become the first South Korean captain to lift the trophy since 1960, but to ask where all his parcels should go in his absence.

Park made his 99th international appearance against Iran in the quarter-finals on Saturday night when he continued his fine form in the tournament, despite often being the target of the Iranians' physical approach.

South Korea won the tie by a single goal through substitute Yoon Bit-garam in extra-time and Park is convinced that the 120-minute battle did not drain his teammates too much before tonight's semi-final against Japan at the Al Gharafa Stadium in Doha.

The 29-year-old is set to earn his 100th cap against Japan and the winners will face the victors from the other semi-final involving Australia and Uzbekistan in the final on Saturday. Park is one player who can be relied on to perform against the competition's best teams.

Man of the match in his country's group draw against Australia, he can be trusted to deliver for his country as well as his club.

Despite being perceived as a squad player, Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, had no hesitation starting him against key opponents in the latter stages of the Champions League against Roma and Barcelona in 2008, with Park's industry, running and versatility the attraction.

That year, he became the first South Korean to win the Champions League, but though he was a key player in the tournament, he was left out of the final against Chelsea in Moscow.

Ferguson later described it as one of his most difficult decisions in football.

Park did start in the final a year later against Barcelona in Rome, when he also was the first Asian to play in the Champions League final. Sadly, he found himself on the losing side.

Park has more than justified his worth since his surprise transfer from PSV Eindhoven in 2005 for £4 million, which led to the more cynical members of United's support to suggest that he was only purchased to increase merchandise sales in South Korea.

That was merely a by-product of his success at Old Trafford, with the club's official website in South Korean a success and pre-season games in Seoul, the capital, selling out. Park has averaged 30 games a season for United, though only 20 of those have been starts.

His 22 goals for United are a solid return for someone who can be played anywhere across midfield or as a supporting striker.

Park made his international debut in 2000 and has played - and scored - at three World Cups. The captain of his country since 2008, he has hinted at retiring from international football after the Asian Cup. Lifting the trophy would be another career high point. It would also unleash a wave of new packages destined for his Manchester United locker.