Park Ji-sung ready for challenge after moving from United to QPR
In most cases, a move from Manchester United to Queens Park Rangers -- a move from challenging for English and European titles to staving off potential relegation -- would be perceived as a significant step backwards. But since swapping the north-west of England for West London in July, Park Ji-sung has never looked happier.
During QPR's summer tour of Malaysia and Indonesia, the beaming South Korean took photographs with flight attendants, frolicked in the pool with his new teammates and seemed relaxed when besieged by Asian media and fans. And since arriving back in London, Park has shown a new side of both the player and the person. The Korean media made a big deal out of photos that captured Park in deep discussion with QPR coach Mark Hughes and assistant Mark Bowen over a tactical clipboard in training. It reinforced the feeling that the Park is going to be given serious responsibility with his new club after years of being a squad player with his old one.
Park also told journalists to back off after he was seen sharing an umbrella with Korean movie actress Bae Doona in London's Piccadilly Circus over the summer. "Please do not report my dating life, so that I can find someone," he said. "[With reporting like this] even if I had a girlfriend, she would run away... and I would be left with no option but to remain single."
If Korean fans and media are seeing a new side of Park, however, he will see a new side of European soccer. He has been accustomed to sitting at the top of the standings for the better part of a decade, ever since he played his last game for Japanese team Kyoto Sanga in 2003. A move to PSV Eindhoven brought two Dutch championships. After heading to Manchester in the summer of 2005, Park's Premier League and Champions League titles have been well documented.
But Park won't likely add to his hardware collection again soon. QPR struggled for the majority of last season under Neil Warnock, and then under Hughes. It took a late surge for the team to climb out of the danger zone, and safety from relegation wasn't confirmed until minutes before the end of the final game. The dramatic late strikes from Manchester City's Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero -- now part of English soccer folklore -- not only could have sent QPR down, but actually cost Park a fifth English Premier League title.
Perhaps Park mentioned that history when Hughes arrived in Seoul in early July eager to acquire the midfielder. And perhaps Hughes reminded Park that he was on the bench that day at Sunderland, crossing the white line only after the final whistle to join the throng of confused-looking colleagues as they waited for news from the Etihad Stadium.
United wanted him to stay for another season, but Park wanted to play. "Last season I hadn't played as much," he said after leaving. "I was offered more money, but QPR offered me something more interesting because they showed me their plans and ambitions."
Park seemed genuine, and it's easy to believe that he chose a challenge over cash. Maybe it's his age (he is now 31) or maybe, after seven years at Manchester United, he is no longer singularly focused on winning. Playing one week and not the next can be frustrating.
At best, QPR is aiming for mid-table, but another relegation battle remains possible. It's up to Park to help ensure that doesn't happen. The responsibility is what he wants. For the first time since coming to England, Park will the go-to guy, the main man, the star and perhaps the captain.
QPR added several other players during a busy summer, and Park will line up alongside Ryan Nelson, Fabio Silva (formerly of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, respectively) and highly rated Canadian winger Junior Holliet, formerly of the relegated Blackburn Rovers. The club was ambitious with its stadium as well, and has plans to leave Loftus Road for a new stadium with a seating capacity of 45,000.
Park's move from United to QPR may signify a dip in the standings. But, in this case, it's not necessarily a step backwards. The new season might just be the most enjoyable of Park's already highly successful career.