Wayne Rooney believes Park Ji-Sung was ‘just as important’ as Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United’s success because he embodied the strong team ethic of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
The South Korean midfielder spent seven seasons with United between 2005 and 2012, winning four Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League.
His former Old Trafford team-mate Rooney said himself, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez usually got the headlines for scoring goals, but wouldn’t have prospered without Park’s selfless efforts.
United’s all-time leading goalscorer highlighted a Champions League clash with AC Milan in which Park completely nullified the threat of Andrea Pirlo.
Writing in The Sunday Times, Rooney said: ‘It’s crazy but if you mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo to a 12-year-old, they would immediately say, ‘Yeah, he was a brilliant player for Manchester United’, but if you said ‘Park Ji-Sung’ they may not know who he was.
‘Yet all of us who played with Park know he was almost as important to our success. That’s because of what Park gave to the collective and I want to talk about teams. They – not stars – are the most important thing in sport.’
Park cost United just £4million when signed from PSV Eindhoven in 2005 as part of Ferguson’s squad rebuild amid a period of Arsenal and Chelsea dominance.
But Rooney says Park and fellow midfielder Darren Fletcher were ‘vital’ to United’s subsequent success both in the Premier League and Europe, where they reached three Champions League finals in four seasons.
‘Players like me, Ronaldo, Tevez got the headlines but they were as important as us if not more, because of what they did for the team,’ Rooney said.
‘We knew that inside the dressing room – and also that because they were so good at sacrificing themselves, their actual individual quality was often overlooked.’
Rooney recalls United’s last-16 encounter with Milan in 2010 as an example, with Park’s dogged man marking of dangerman Pirlo a key reason why they won the tie 7-2 on aggregate.
‘I remember Fergie’s team talk before playing AC Milan. He literally said to Park: ‘Your job today is not about touching the ball, it’s not about making passes, your job is Pirlo. That’s all: Pirlo,’ Rooney said.
‘I think Pirlo barely had 40 passes in that game, and 95 per cent were backwards because Park was so unbelievable at carrying out his orders.’