Park Ji-sung retires

May 14, 2014

SUWON (Yonhap) — Park Ji-sung, arguably the most celebrated soccer player in Korean history, retired from the sport on Wednesday at age 33, citing debilitating pain in his surgically repaired right knee.

Park Ji-sung didn't look sad at all when announcing his retirement. (Yonhap)

Park said he was able to stay composed because he accomplished more in his career than he ever imagined. (Yonhap)

Park, former national team captain and the first South Korean to play in English Premier League, was the picture of composure, flashing an occasional smile as he wrapped up an illustrious career that included joining South Korea’s historic run to the semifinals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

“I’ve been mulling retirement since February, and I’ve concluded that my knee won’t hold up for another season,” Park said at JS Football Center, named after his initials in Suwon, about 45 kilometers south of Seoul. He grew up in the city, where he also has a street named after him.

“I have no regrets about my career,” Park continued, with shirts from every team he’d played for, from elementary school to the Dutch side PSV Eindhoven this year, lined up in front of his stage. “I do think about what might have been if I hadn’t been injured, but I have no feelings of disappointment or sorrow as I leave the sport. I have been very fortunate.”

Park played his last official match on May 3 with PSV and ended his second tour of duty with the Dutch club with a 2-0 win over NAC Breda. Under contract with Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in England, the midfielder was loaned to PSV for the past season, in which the club finished fourth among 18 teams in the Eredivisie, the top-flight competition in the Netherlands.

Park had an operation to remove damaged cartilage in his right knee in March 2003, and four years later, underwent an articular cartilage restoration procedure. He was kept off the field for eight months after the second surgery and had occasional flare-ups on the same leg over the ensuing years.

“I could have opted for another surgery to get ready for next season,” Park said. “But it would have taken too much time, and there was no guarantee that the knee would get better. And retirement was the only option I had left.”

Park was accompanied to the press conference by his parents, who appeared to be more emotional than the former South Korean captain. Park said he was able to stay composed because he accomplished more in his career than he ever imagined.

Park, who runs his own charity foundation, said that in his post-playing career, he will try to find ways to return the love and support he received from his fans, though not necessarily through coaching.

“I have said many times that I have no desire to become a coach, and I don’t even have a coaching certificate,” Park said with a smile. “I am thinking of becoming a football administrator, but it’s not a clear objective yet. I am going to think about what I can do to help Korean football and Korean sports. It will take a long time.”

As a show of homage to Guus Hiddink, his mentor, Park wanted to retire with PSV Eindhoven. (Yonhap)

As a show of homage to Guus Hiddink, his mentor, Park wanted to retire with PSV Eindhoven. (Yonhap)

Park, a versatile player known for tireless work ethic, leaves the sport with his legacy in international and club play well secured.

He represented South Korea at three straight FIFA World Cups starting in 2002, and scored a goal in all three.

Park netted the winner in co-host South Korea’s 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final group match in 2002, putting the country in the knockout stage for the first time ever.

Four years later, Park scored the equalizer to hold the eventual runner-up France to a 1-1 draw, but South Korea couldn’t get past the group phase in Germany.

In 2010 in South Africa, Park was the South Korean captain, and scored the second goal in a 2-0 win over Greece, as South Korea reached the round of 16 for the first time away from home.

All in all, Park played 100 international matches, one of eight South Koreans with at least 100 caps.

The undersized player, overlooked by South Korean scouts out of high school, entered a minor college before making his professional debut with Japan’s Kyoto Purple Sanga in 2000. Following a successful campaign at the 2002 World Cup, Park joined PSV Eindhoven, coached by Guus Hiddink, who’d managed South Korea at the World Cup.

Three years later, Park became the first South Korean to reach English Premier League, when he signed with Manchester United. He went on to enjoy the best seven-year span of his pro career, winning four Premiership titles and one UEFA Champions League crown.

Park joined another Premier League club, QPR, before the 2012-13 season. He began the season as QPR’s new captain, but the club was relegated to the second-tier Football League Championship for the following season.

Park returned to PSV before the 2013-14 season and made 23 Eredivisie appearances.

Park has long been known for his ability to play anywhere in midfield and also his high work rate, which earned him the moniker “Three-Lung Park” while with Manchester United. Park’s hard-nosed, all-out style of play, though, might also have been his undoing, given his history of knee problems.

Asked to rate his own career, Park gave himself a seven out of 10.

“I wasn’t perfect, and no one is,” he said. “Players all have different strengths, and how you can maximize them to help the team win determines your value. The key for me was to capitalize on my energy because it wasn’t something that everyone had. I don’t regret that I was never a great technician, because I enjoyed football with what other players didn’t have.”

Park chose the 2002 World Cup as the moment he wanted to relive as a player, saying it was a dream come true to play for the country.

“I was one of the youngest players, and I had no pressure,” he said. “I could just go out and play football. The national team uniform is the one I cherish the most.”

Park retired from international play in January 2011, after helping South Korea finish third at the Asian Cup earlier in the same month. Then earlier this year, South Korean national team head coach Hong Myung-bo attempted to persuade Park to join this year’s World Cup squad for one last hurrah, but the veteran declined.

Park on Wednesday advised members of this year’s World Cup team to keep their heads high.

“It’s important to play with confidence,” he said. “They should also try to avoid injuries and keep themselves in great shape.”

Park thanked all of his coaches for their influence but said Hiddink left the biggest impact on his career.

“He took me to Europe, and that was a huge turning point,” Park said. “Alex Ferguson (for Manchester United) also helped me hold my ground against the toughest competition in the world. I gained great experience playing alongside great players, and I hope to share it with many others.”

Park also announced that he will tie the knot with a former local television personality, Kim Min-ji, left,  on July 27. (Yonhap)

Park also announced that he will tie the knot with a former local television personality, Kim Min-ji, left, on July 27. (Yonhap)

Also on Wednesday, Park said he will tie the knot with a former local television personality, Kim Min-ji, on July 27. Park said last June that he’d been dating Kim, who was then working as an anchorwoman for SBS, since the beginning of that summer, days after an online newspaper published paparazzi shots of the two out on a date in Seoul.

Park and PSV Eindhoven are scheduled to face two South Korean pro clubs in exhibition matches this month: first against Suwon Bluewings on May 22 and Gyeongnam FC two days later.

Park is also trying to hold a charity match on July 25. He said players from the domestic K League Classic will participate but that more details still needed to be hammered out. Park said it will be his final appearance on a football pitch.



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