United's un-Sung hero
UNITED punters and experts alike are finally realising the importance of Ji-sung Park to Sir Alex Ferguson's treble bid. Sceptics had their suspicions in 2005 when the Korean was bought from PSV Eindhoven for £4m. Many believed it was a ploy by Old Trafford's hierarchy to boost the club's profile in the Far East and to help them sell shirts in Asia. And his inconsistency on the pitch did nothing to change the minds of the sceptics. But Park's diving match-winner against Liverpool on Sunday and recent goals against Arsenal and AC Milan are changing opinion. In the United dressing room 29-year-old Park's work ethic has always been appreciated from the time he swapped the Dutch League for England five years ago. "Ji is a player who's probably appreciated a bit more by his team-mates than some of the pundits and the media," said United defender Rio Ferdinand. "Now I think people are starting to see what a talented player he is. Maybe that's only because he's scoring goals, but we've always appreciated him. He's a top man and a top player." Park's recent goals have certainly upped his profile among the Reds faithful. And former United star Lou Macari shares Ferdinand's belief that he is important to the team and argues Park was always more than a merchandising tool. "The manager and his team-mates see a player's worth every single day in training," Macari told M.E.N. Sport. "Fans and experts don't get that insight into the true value of some players. Even on a match day you often follow the play and don't appreciate off-the-ball work. Graft "Some players suffer in popularity because of that. It's a fact of life. But if your colleagues and your manager realise your importance then that is what really matters. "There are, and have been, players down the years at every club like Ji-sung Park. At Old Trafford I can think of the likes of Gerry Daly, Mick Duxbury, Remi Moses and Nicky Butt. "They didn't get the headlines but they put in the graft and their team-mates couldn't have done without them. They never let you down and worked non-stop. It is no use having a team of 11 headline makers. It doesn't work. You have to have your unsung heroes. "As for the shirts theory, I don't buy it. A manager as successful as Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't work like that. If he keeps you at Old Trafford it is because you are good enough. "That's the only question he will ask himself. It is the only thing that determines whether you stay or go. There is no other agenda with him. There's no other reason why a player would be bought and kept." Macari first clapped eyes on Park in the 2005 Champions League semi-final between PSV and AC Milan. It was the Korean's starring role for Guus Hiddink in those matches against the Italians that persuaded Fergie and his scouts to buy him. Park scored against Milan in a 3-1 win in Holland, but PSV lost in Italy 2-0 as his dreams of reaching the final ended. "Park was brilliant in both legs and I couldn't believe PSV didn't make it to the final," said Macari. "But he was very impressive and I was delighted when United bought him. His work-rate was terrific in those matches and it is his stand-out quality. "But he was not to everyone's liking. I think sometimes when a team is doing well the obvious stars hit the headlines. But when you aren't playing well people look for scapegoats and the superstars escape that. It is players like Park who then get picked on as a reason why things are going wrong. "Darren Fletcher used to be like that. Some fans couldn't understand why Fergie persisted with him. "But look at Darren now. He is vital to the Reds. Ji-sung Park is in the same category."
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