Park Ji-sung the Champions League winner who did not play

In 2008 Park Ji-sung became the first Asian player to win the Champions League and still is the only Korean to lift the trophy. Despite not being part of the 18-man squad for Manchester United that night in Moscow when John Terry slipped and the red side of Manchester celebrated he did play a key role in the success. 

The Arrival 

Back in 2008 Park Ji-sung was a 27-year-old midfielder at the top of his game and he was a key part of a Manchester United side that had success both domestically and on the continent. With this in mind, it still is crazy to think he was not in the squad for the Champions League Final in May 2008.

Especially staggering is he had played the full 180 minutes over two legs as his side overcame Barcelona to reach the final.  His exclusion that day is not forgotten though and this is something, Alex Ferguson noted as he is quoted as saying "My problem in the 2008 final, maybe I even regret it to this day, as I left Ji-sung Park out completely in the final. He’d played such a great role and that’s the problem when you get to these finals. At Wembley [against Barcelona two years later], I did it to Dimitar Berbatov and he took it badly. He didn’t deserve it."

In all honesty, the player that is much loved in Korea had an odd time in Manchester in terms of where he fitted into the side. It all started well as the player signed for £4 million from PSV Eindhoven in July 2005 making him only the second East Asian player to sign for the club after Chinese striker Dong Fangzhuo.

In fact despite staying at the club till 2012 the 2005/06 season was his most successful at the club in terms of the playing time. This was seen as he played a total of 33 league matches, six Champions League matches, three League Cup ties and two FA Cup games.

On the pitch, it was to be a hit and miss season as Roman Abramovich money took its toll with Chelsea lifting their second title in a row with Manchester United second and eight-points behind.

At this time he was part of a midfield that needed work as him and Darren Fletcher looked like players fighting it out for a position in the midfield next to an ageing Paul Scholes.

Both him and Fletcher had a great engine and could get up and down the pitch and into players faces which were great attributes to have. He was a footballer who could play in many positions in midfield and was often used at this time in the middle of the pitch.

The club had just seen Roy Keane head for the exit too so they really needed to replace that energy in the midfield, let's be honest to come and replace Keane is a hell of a task. Park did this though with a very successful first season at the club.

Despite this with the arrival of Michael Carrick from Tottenham the following season his game time was limited as Manchester United went on to lift the league title.

The Champions League 

After lifting the league title in 2007 the following season was a big one for the club as they looked to build on that success. Park having had limited time the previous season stayed with the club and looked to cement his place back in the side. 

The season was not to start well for the Korean however though as injury meant he did not make a league appearance till Boxing Day 2007 as he played his part in a 4-0 away win over Sunderland. That day he played the final 30 minutes and came on to replace none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.

He then returned and in the second half of the season, he played in 11 of the 18 matches in the league for the remainder of the campaign. It was to be a hugely successful league campaign also as his club went on to lift the title. 

In the FA Cup, it was not to be so great though as he was an unused substitute as his team lost in the sixth round to the eventual winners Portsmouth. 

It was the second half of the season in the Champions League though where Park really showed his value. Having not played a single minute till the quarter-final stage the player showed his worth to the side in the latter stages. 

This was seen first as he played the full 180 minutes over two legs as his side defeated Roma 3-0 on aggregate and to show his versatility he played one leg of this tie at left midfielder and the second leg at right midfield. He did not score in these matches but played his role with his impressive runs all match. 

It was then the semi-final stage when Manchester United had the small task of overcoming Barcelona over two legs to reach the final. They did this and not only that they did this without conceding a goal as they won 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a spectacular strike by Paul Scholes.

In these two legs, he played his part over the 180 minutes at left midfield as his runs caused the defence problems and his crosses into the box often worried the centre half pairing of Puyol and Gabriel Milito.

These displays would make you think there is not a chance he would be left out for the final but then that day in May came round in Moscow. It was an all English final as Manchester United took on the new money at the time of Chelsea. 

Had he played that day he would have been at left midfield am sure and his runs and crosses into the box could have caused many issues for the Chelsea backline and he would have been up against Michael Essien who played in his unconventional right back role that night. 

He didn't play and in the end, his side did go on and win on penalties 6-5 this came after Ronaldo had missed early in the shootout and then famously John Terry slipped and missed his penalty when he had a chance to win it for his side. 

Despite all the triumphs in Ferguson's career the fact he won that night and still says leaving Park out of the squad for the match is one of his biggest regrets sums up just what the player brought to the Manchester United side.

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