Monday, December 17, 2007

Park Ready To Return

Park Ready To Return.
Park Ready To Return
It’s been a long time coming. After almost nine months on the sidelines, Park Ji-sung is set to return to action for Manchester United this week. His absence has been keenly felt - perhaps more in Seoul than in the English city.

With compatriots in other Premier League clubs struggling to make an impact on the pitch, the sight of the busy South Korean sporting the famous red shirt is one that everybody has been waiting for.

It was a bright early spring when the 26 year-old sustained a knee injury. At the time, it didn’t seem so serious and his expected absence was short – a good thing as, just prior to the injury, Park had been playing his best football since joining the club from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2005.

The scenario was similar that of Lee Dong-guk almost exactly one year previously. Lee had been in perhaps the best form of his career in March and April 2006 in the K-League. He was scoring goals for fun for Pohang Steelers and had established himself as Korea’s number one striker just ahead of the 2006 World Cup.

On an early April evening against Incheon United, Lee scored a delightful first-half volley and then was carried off the pitch in the second half. The seriousness of his injury wasn’t immediately apparent.

Lee, now at Middlesbrough, missed the World Cup while Park was forced to watch his Manchester United team-mates lift the English Premier League trophy in May and exit the Champions League at the semi-final stage at the hands of AC Milan.

After it became apparent that his injury was more serious than first thought, Park went under the knife in the US for an operation that was, according to his father, career-saving.

The road to recovery has been a long one and the player’s journey has been accompanied by the expected countless number of headlines. His ability to walk without the aid of crutches was well-reported (unfortunately, a headline like "A Walk In The Park" doesn't work in Korean) as was his return to the gym (neither does "Park Bench Press"). Around two weeks ago he resumed full-training with the first team squad and as coach Sir Alex Ferguson told reporters last week, he is looking good.

"He played in the practice game on Sunday and was absolutely outstanding. I hadn't registered him for Europe at the start of the season because we didn't think he would be back until January with his injury.”

Park could return against Everton on December 23 and for Korean fans it will be a welcome Christmas present. Saturday nights without Park don’t have the same appeal, for viewers or advertisers, in Seoul. It is not only broadcasters who are happy to see the return of the familiar mop-top. Internet sports sites have all recorded greater traffic levels as excitement grows as the time of Park’s return nears.

United haven’t done too badly without the former PSV Eindhoven star. After winning the title, the Red Devils went shopping in the summer and bought stars such as Carlos Tevez, Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson, big-money players who have all smoothly settled into the set-up.

Fighting for an almost automatic place won’t be the first challenge that Park has faced and it won’t be the first time that he has had the whole Korean nation behind him.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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