Ji-Sung Park recalls united move
The first day at work is always nerve-shredding. Imagine what it must be like, then, for a foreign player to report to training for their first day as a United player.
It’s hard enough as it is chasing Paul Scholes around Carrington, without language, cultural and climatic vagaries to cope with, too.
Japanese attacker Shinji Kagawa is the latest foreign star to join Manchester United, but he can take comfort in the knowledge that plenty of others have done the same and been hugely successful.
One of them, of course, is South Korea international Ji-sung Park, who arrived at Old Trafford in summer 2005. Here, in an interview conducted with the no.13 in 2010, Ji recalls how he settled into life at Manchester United.
Was it difficult leaving your own country behind and travelling somewhere new?
It can be nerve-wracking, but if you want to play at a high level you have to leave your country. I was 19 when I left South Korea to go to Japan, which obviously wasn’t too far away. I was happy to move at that stage because I wanted to experience a different culture and style of football. Then I came to Europe. There are so many great players here and I wanted to know why they’re so good.
What about joining United? Was that daunting?
When I joined the first training session I looked around and saw all the players I used to watch on TV. I was like, ‘Can I play with these players?’ It was weird. I was confident in my ability, but it was just strange to be alongside these players. There were moments in training, like making a good pass or scoring a goal, that built my confidence.
Can you remember how you felt during your first day at the club?
I felt everything, especially when I walked in for the first time. After I signed, even before I signed – when I did the medical test – I had a look around and it was clear this was the biggest club in the world. I remember it being a really proud moment.
When you arrived in England, was it how you thought it would be?
Before I came here I knew all about Manchester United, that they were the biggest club in the world. Everything is the best, so you can only improve yourself as a person and a player. I expected that to happen, from playing with the world’s best players in training to being involved with matches, it was how I thought it would be.
Was there anything you found particularly difficult or surprising?
The most difficult thing is being away from my family and friends. Other European players can pop home because the flight is only two or three hours long. It’s a long way to my country, which doesn’t help my friends, especially when they can usually only take two weeks off from work. Also, because I play at weekends, and often in the week, I only get two days off here and there, which isn’t enough time for me to go back to Korea. I’m used to it, but it’s hard.
Was the language barrier a big problem for you?
Ruud van Nistelrooy was here when I joined and he had played for PSV, made the same move to United and spoke a language I knew, so being able to talk to him in Dutch helped me feel more comfortable. Still, it is very different learning English in Holland and then coming here and speaking to the natives, especially with all the accents, including the gaffer! Now, I just use English. I’d like the people to speak Korean, but Patrice is one who knows any words.
How easy was it to settle in?
I found that the first time I met the players and members of staff, they were very warm towards me. They helped me a lot, so it made it easy to join in and get used to the lifestyle. People were quick to recommend good Chinese and Korean restaurants.
Do you tend to help the young foreign lads?
I like to try to help them because I know how much it meant to me to have people help me settle when I came here.
What do you miss most from home?
I can get a lot of things here. I can get Korean food and watch television programmes I’d watch back home on the internet. I keep up with the news back home, especially the football. For me, the worst thing is not being able to see your friends and family, but my family are usually stay for a few months when they do come. I also have friends here who can pop over for a cup of tea. I email and call my friends, but it can be hard because of the nine-hour time difference.
What’s the best thing you’ve discovered about England or Manchester?
I don’t like to go out too much. I’d rather stay at home and relax, although I like to go into the city centre or the Trafford Centre.
Is the lifestyle different here?
In my country I can’t do everything I want, but here I can walk everywhere and do anything. I like that. I don’t like to be famous. I’m happy here because life is calmer. When United go to Asia the other players get to see what it’s like. That’s what it’s like for me when I go home to my country, so I have to be quite mentally strong because it can be difficult to deal with. I am getting used to it. Now it’s no problem, but before it has been uncomfortable.
How was your move to United perceived back home?
It was funny because on the day that I joined the club, the newspaper that broke the news was one that people don’t always trust or believe. Then, when I signed and there were pictures of me and Sir Alex Ferguson, people believed it. It was a big shock, I think. My reputation has increased not just in Korea, but across the continent. My reputation was already big in my country because of the World Cup in 2002, but after coming here the coverage has grown. I don’t feel too much pressure, though. All I can do is my best. Manchester is one of a few clubs, along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan, that most people know about back home., People who don’t like football so much might not have known where Manchester was or who played for the team, but that’s changed.