OWL Magazine Korea

“Park Ji-sung: The Unending Challenge”

The 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup was a frenzy of excitement. It was the first World Cup held in South Korea, and with the appointment of coach Hiddink, South Korea achieved unexpected success. Initially aiming for just one win, South Korea surpassed expectations by recording 2 wins and 1 draw in the group stage, advancing to the round of 16.

In the round of 16, they faced formidable opponents Italy and secured a comeback victory in extra time. In the quarterfinals against Spain, they triumphed in a penalty shootout after a hard-fought battle, advancing to the semifinals. Although they were defeated by Germany in the semifinals, reaching the World Cup semifinals was an unprecedented achievement.

At that time, with the average age being in the 20s, coupled with a vibrant atmosphere due to high economic growth rates and the hosting of the World Cup, society was swept up in fervor.

“South Korea Enthralled by Football”

In 2002, South Korea was truly enthralled by “football.” While it’s difficult to see street cheering even during national team matches nowadays, back then, street cheering during national team matches across the country was considered natural.

Of course, at the heart of this street cheering were “football” and the “World Cup.”

“The Goal by Park Ji-sung Against Portugal in the Group Stage”

In a situation where South Korea had recorded 1 win and 1 draw, Park Ji-sung scored a crucial goal in the last group stage match against Portugal, breaking the 0-0 deadlock with a successful finish after receiving a cross. This goal engraved Park Ji-sung’s name in the hearts of football fans worldwide.

Following his impressive performance at the World Cup, Park Ji-sung eventually moved to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands after the tournament. Despite initially struggling and facing criticism, he eventually showcased his true abilities and made a shocking move to Manchester United, which was then dominating under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.

“Park Ji-sung’s Autobiography: The Unending Challenge”

Park Ji-sung’s autobiography, “The Unending Challenge,” was published in 2006. It was released after his transfer to Manchester United in 2005, making it a book that was publicly available during Park Ji-sung’s prime.

The book covers Park Ji-sung’s efforts to become a professional footballer, his continuous growth in professional football, and the process of transferring to top clubs.

“Park Ji-sung, Known for Flat Feet”

Park Ji-sung’s natural physical condition was not considered advantageous for a footballer. He was smaller in stature compared to other footballers, and he was known to have flat feet. This physical weakness made it challenging for him to progress to professional leagues or universities. There were no universities willing to accept him, and he only managed to continue playing football at Myongji University through a stroke of luck.

After graduating from university, he struggled to garner attention in the K-League, so he reluctantly moved to the J-League in Japan. However, even there, he quietly fulfilled his role and even helped promote his team from the second division to the first division.

Following his breakthrough at the 2002 World Cup and catching the eye of coach Hiddink, Park Ji-sung’s transfer to the Netherlands and subsequent transfer to Manchester United are also highlighted in the book.

“Jeers in the Netherlands”

After transferring to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Park Ji-sung struggled to perform well. At one point, home fans even jeered him during home matches. However, he found his form by primarily playing in away matches, overcame his innate diligence, and succeeded in transforming jeers into cheers.

Based on his outstanding performance in the Champions League quarterfinals against AC Milan in 2004, Park Ji-sung joined Manchester United, marking the conclusion of the book’s story.

“Consistent Performance at Manchester United”

Although the book was published in 2006, it only covers the period until his move to Manchester United. However, we are well aware of Park Ji-sung’s subsequent career after joining Manchester United. He adapted well at Manchester United and alternated between being a key player and a substitute in a team comprised of some of the world’s best players, such as Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs.

Among them, Park Ji-sung stood out as a player with equal prowess, and he can be considered the first successful South Korean player in the Premier League.

“Continuing the Legacy in the Premier League with Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan”

Thanks to Park Ji-sung’s success in British football, subsequent players who followed in his footsteps may have found it easier to enter the Premier League stage. Some even refer to Park Ji-sung as the “godfather of overseas football.”

As of 2024, Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan are showcasing their talents in the Premier League. Son Heung-min even became the joint top scorer of the 2021-2022 Premier League season, establishing himself as a world-class player.

“Diligence, Passion, Mental Strength”

Three words come to mind when thinking of Park Ji-sung: diligence, passion, and mental strength. Seeing his journey, one believes that with diligence, passion, and mental strength, success can be achieved in any endeavor.

While the current situation may be challenging, as Park Ji-sung experienced, persevering with diligence and passion, despite hardships, may eventually lead to recognition and success.

Additionally, adding “humility” to these qualities could further solidify one’s position, even after reaching the top.

“Letter from Coach Hiddink to Park Ji-sung”

The book includes a letter from Coach Hiddink to Park Ji-sung. As Coach Hiddink wasn’t proficient in Korean, the letter was written in English. Its contents are as follows:

  • Dear Ji Sung
  • When I first met Ji Sung I saw a young boy who had a lot of possibilities to become a better player, but he wasn’t really aware of his own qualities.
  • On the way to the World Cup, during the preparation period, he was grown up a lot and became more and more confident.
  • Then he arrived in Eindhoven to join us at PSV. In the beginning he had a difficult time because of the completely new experience in every respect; the country, language, culture and the way of training, but it was also difficult because he had been playing non stop for more than 3 years.
  • He had suffered a small injury in his meniscus, but he didn’t mention anything to the technical or medical staff. That’s also typically Ji Sung.
  • No complaining but only hard work and just keep on going. After that time, and after getting several criticisms from outside and inside the club, he became one of the most special and loved players at the club, in the team but also for  all the supporters of PSV and the city of Eindhoven.
  • He left the club as a great player taking with him all the credits for his performance and devotion from PSV, his friends and the fans of the club.
  • I expect Ji Sung to do with his best without any complain as usual.
  • With best regards,
  • From Guus Hiddink

“PSV Eindhoven Providing Park Ji-sung’s Final Retirement Match”

After leaving PSV, Park Ji-sung moved to Manchester United. Following a long stint at Manchester United and later joining QPR, which had just been promoted to the Premier League at the time, Park Ji-sung continued his career as a player but the team ultimately failed to achieve good results.

As retirement approached, PSV Eindhoven, where Park Ji-sung had laid the groundwork for his British football career, arranged for Park Ji-sung to have his final retirement match.

While Park Ji-sung’s challenges as a footballer may have come to an end with the passing years, he is still known to be continuing his challenges, whether as a commentator or preparing for a coaching role.

“The Unending Challenge”