To state the obvious: Park Ji-Sung is not the new Paul Scholes. But after two outstanding games in central midfield against AC Milan and then Liverpool, Manchester United’s South Korean midfielder has offered Sir Alex Ferguson a new dimension. Normally consigned to the wing, Park has slotted effortlessly into Scholes’ old attacking midfield role.
Indeed, the Korean so successfully fulfilled the aim of nullifying Javier Msacherano’s defensive presence in the Liverpool midfield on Sunday that it is a wonder the former PSV Eindhoven hasn’t played the role for years. Against Milan, Park not only delivered his customary energy but such outstanding movement that the Italian’s defensive quartet spent the evening more akin to strangers than teammates.
Such is Park’s lot that the 29-year-old lost his place in Ferguson’s side for Fulham’s visit to Old Trafford following his goalscoring turn against Milan. It’s the story of an inconsistent United career that has yielded just 100 starting appearances in nearly five years at the club.
But as Scholes winds down a fabulous career, Park could force yet his way into a central berth that is as yet unsuccessfully claimed by contemporaries; Anderson promise unfulfilled, Darron Gibson largely disappointing.
The question mark that hangs over the player’s claims is a goalscoring record that boasts just 15 strikes during his United tenure. His ratio was only slightly better at PSV and a one in eight record at international level is hardly auspicious.
It’s a problem the low-key Korean captain recognises.
“It was a great feeling to score against Liverpool,” said the player, who also netted in United’s victory at the Emirates in January.
“Derby matches are very important games, so to score the winner in one is a fantastic feeling. Doing it in front of the Stretford End was unbelievable.
“I want to score more goals for United and it doesn’t matter who they are against. I know I should score more goals. I feel good scoring against the big teams like Arsenal, Milan and Liverpool, but I want that experience more often.”
Perhaps it is not without pertinence that the midfielder’s three goals this season have come against top class opposition.
Although Park’s presence bears little resemblance to the mesmeric touch and passing of Scholes few in the past generation have. Ferguson must eventually decide if a like-for-like replacement is even possible in the search for the Salford-born genius’ disciple.
Most importantly Ferguson trusts Park’s consistency of performance, even if the suspicion remains that the Korean’s quality is of a tier below his more lauded colleagues.
At least the player has dismissed the deeply insulting prevailing media view that his acquisition in 2005 was inspired by a desire to ‘sell more shirts’.
“I didn’t think that,” added Ferguson, who paid around £4 million for the player much to Eindhoven’s chagrin.
“When I went to see him play in those Champions League semi-finals for PSV Eindhoven in 2005 I thought this is a player who understands football.
“He is intelligent and disciplined and he can play different positions. Someone is always going to take a runner on something like selling shirts. But you could say that about every player we have signed.”
The challenge now for Park, who turns 30 next season, is to develop the final phase of a late-blossoming career: bit part winger or star turn in United’s engine room of the future.