Manchester United bid farewell to Park Ji-Sung, Sir Alex Ferguson's big-game catalyst

After the South Korean completed his move to QPR, the need for a replacement capable of striking the balance between craft and graft is needed now more than ever at Old Trafford
By James McManus

Park Ji-Sung's transfer from Manchester United to QPR has signalled the end of an era of sorts; the decline and subsequent dearth of hard-working midfield talent at the club is now more noticeable than ever.

As they head into the new campaign, bidding to wrestle back control of the league title from bitter rivals and perennial noisy neighbours Manchester City, the shape of their midfield lacks not only energy, but conviction.

Many words have been used to describe Park in the aftermath of his sale - tireless, industrious, enterprising - and all sum up not only the man in question but exactly the qualities the middle of the club's midfield now sorely lack.

Affectionately nicknamed 'Three-Lung Park' on the terraces, the 31-year-old South Korean endeared himself to the loyal fanbase during a trophy-laden seven-year spell at Old Trafford, and he remained the perfect example of what every title-winning team requires: the dynamic and versatile squad player.

The new QPR signing's career to date
Disciplined, tactically aware and hugely underrated as a footballer, Park's influence often came in the most important of games, finding the back of the net five times in eight starts against Arsenal, and famously proving a thorn in the side of Andrea Pirlo at the San Siro back in 2010 against AC Milan, as the side battled to a momentous and historic victory.

It begs the question, does Ferguson still have that sort of big-game player in his squad?

The clamour for a glamour signing over the past few years has been tangible - the likes of Sneijder, Ozil and Hazard have all opted for different clubs, been priced out of moves or have slipped through the miserly fingers of the wily old Scot in recent times.

Applying a dash of glitz to proceedings is akin to covering a gaping wound with a plaster, it merely papers over the cracks, without addressing the root cause of what the wider problems really are - issues that are now in danger of bordering on the systemic.

The continued and prolonged absence of Darren Fletcher provides a cause for concern after being laid low by ulcerative colitis for the best part of the last two seasons. The 28-year-old Scotland international was quickly becoming the energetic hub of the Manchester United engine room and his bustling presence has certainly been missed.

His long-term future remains up in the air and plans have to be made for the worst case scenario, his premature retirement from football.


The last genuinely great and truly world-class side Ferguson had the pleasure of managing was back in 2007-08, with Owen Hargreaves as the busy and quietly efficient driving force alongside Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in midfield, adding the graft to the flame-haired maestro's craft and the latter's languid ball-playing stylings.

Much like with Fletcher, though, a combination of rotten luck and a penchant for the treatment table put paid to any hopes Ferguson may have harboured of a somewhat permanent solution to his midfield conundrum, with Hargreaves struck down by a debilitating and chronic knee injury.

The over-reliance that the side still has on both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes is also worrying. A few facts to throw your way – Giggs and Scholes currently have a combined age of 75; they have 1605 first-team appearances, 317 goals and 57 team honours between them. In short, they are tantamount to irreplaceable.

Ferguson will not be able to retire safe in the knowledge that he has left the club in the best shape possible until they are successfully replaced, for his legacy, to an extent, will prove incomplete otherwise.

Park remained the last bastion to the throwback sides of yesteryear, the sort of sides that Ferguson built his reputation on. Players like Keane, Ince and Robson harried the opposition with a ferocious hunger off the ball that bordered on the maniacal.

Far too often now, games can simply pass the somewhat pedestrian United midfield by, and they can be bested and bullied by a more aggressive opponent.

9/4 Manchester United are 9/4 with Sportingbet to win the 2012-13 Premier League
The likes of Rooney, Nani and Kagawa may leave the casual observer salivating at the mouth with their magnificence over the course of next season, but without the necessary platform to allow the more creative players to perform, a place at Europe's top table will continue to elude Ferguson and his charges.

Firepower has never been a problem at Old Trafford, neither has confidence or creating chances, but the desire to win the ball back and do it quickly has faded and to their detriment.

It may not be the flashiest of positions, the midfield enforcer or the man-marking marvel, but they are often just as key to the smooth running of any successful side on the biggest stage; a cog in the machine as it were and it's what the current side requires above all else.

Park was allowed to leave because he was incapable of performing to the required standard anymore - as best typified by his anonymous and largely ineffectual display in the Manchester derby at the end of last season - but if anything, that merely highlights the role's importance for the future.

Park was a big-game player, a man for the grand occasion, no matter what the role or formation he was asked to go out and perform in. He was an integral part of Ferguson's battle plans and will be missed just as much for what he represented as opposed to what he actually was still.

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