Korea Republic and Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung has told FIFA.com that he would not have achieved the levels of success he has enjoyed so far in his career without the guidance of Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.
In an exclusive interview with the official website of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, the industrious midfielder also challenged young players to follow his lead and move to Europe to complete their footballing education.
Born in Suwon, one of the venues for Korea 2007, Park began playing football at the age of 11, winning various awards for his precocious talent. After being rejected by a host of clubs in Korea, he attended Myung-Ji University to continue his footballing career. Yet it was not until Hiddink was appointed coach of the Taeguk Warriors in the year 2000 that his career began to blossom.
"When I was young, I always tried to play at a club that was more advanced than my level, so I was continually challenging myself to attain higher goals," he said. "Fortunately for me, I was selected by the national team while I was still at university. Then I went to Eindhoven and gained European experience. But it was Guus Hiddink who turned my career around. By believing in me, he made me believe in myself. That is such an important thing for a young footballer."
Park, an integral part of the Korea Republic team that finished fourth at Korea/Japan 2002, moved to PSV Eindhoven in 2003 before completing a dream move to Manchester United in 2005. In the Old Continent, he has witnessed at first-hand the benefits of state-of-the-art training facilities for youngsters and feels that emerging talents from Asia must move to Europe's elite clubs if they want to realise their potential.
"The facilities for young players are better in Europe than in Korea," he continued. "Here, they play on grass, whereas back home they play on hard surfaces or artificial turf. Generally, young professionals in the Netherlands and England belong to a club which has great facilities in order for them to develop their talent. In Korea they only play for their school and are not part of a club.
"Football in Asia is improving, but it will take time to reach European standards. For me, it's important for Asian players to come to Europe's top-level teams to learn how to play. But If I could give one piece of advice for the young players in Korea, it would be: enjoy playing the game and don't give up on your goals."
Sir Alex a mirror image
Having benefited from the tutelage of a Dutch master for club and country, Park is now learning from another of Europe's leading managerial lights, Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. "Yes, I see similarities between the two," he smiled. "Both are excellent coaches and they always encourage me and my team-mates to show our abilities. I find that players who play under their management always give 100 per cent in every game."
United's No13, who underwent surgery on a troublesome knee
injury during their title-winning campaign of 2006/7, has been a
frustrated spectator on the sidelines over the past six months, but
has been heartened by the Red Devils transfer activity. The
26-year-old has also pencilled in a comeback date of early 2008,
with his return eagerly anticipated by fans in England and the Far
"I'm confident that we can retain the Premiership title this season," he said. "We've got a good squad and the manager has brought some good players into the team to improve it even further. The new signings have all impressed me in different ways. Nani is very quick, Owen [Hargreaves] works hard and Carlos [Tevez] has great vision. Anderson hasn't played much, but I am looking forward to seeing more of him. Hopefully, I'll be playing again early in the New Year. My knee is getting better; it's a case of so far, so good."