Uncertain times for Asian stars
Manchester United winger Park Ji-Sung is determined to stay injury-free this season as the Korea Republic star flies the flag for Premier League's Asian stars.
After missing the first half of last season with a knee injury, Park was a regular in Sir Alex Ferguson's team during the final weeks as United strode towards double success in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League.
The 27-year-old's composed displays in crucial European ties against Roma and Barcelona underlined his value to United, and seemed to cement his place in Ferguson's plans. But just as he was looking forward to going into the new season as an essential part of the team, Park's old knee injury flared up again.
He had to miss FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers against Turkmenistan and Korea DPR because of discomfort in his knee and was left out of Korea Republic's squad for the Beijing Olympics. As a result, Park has missed the whole of United's pre-season.
He hopes to return to training after United's Premier League opener against Newcastle on Sunday, but even then he will still be several weeks from full match fitness.
The setback is typical of Park's injury-ravaged spell at Old Trafford. With Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo also sidelined, Park would have had substantial playing time to impress. Now he just wants to steer clear of any more injuries for the rest of the season and prove himself all over again.
"It's crucial that I spend the coming season without any injury. It's most important that I show all I can on the pitch," he said. "Many chances will come along during the coming year. What's important is how I grab those chances."
While Park steps up his rehabilitation, his Chinese team-mate Dong Fangzhuo faces another frustrating season in the shadows. Dong has made only three appearances since his transfer from Dalian Shide in January 2004, and there is little chance of the 23-year-old striker adding to that tally this term.
The prospects for the other Asians playing in the Premier League are hardly much brighter. Korea Republic winger Seol Ki-Hyeon is unlikely to improve on a miserable debut season with Fulham. He made just four league starts after a £1.5 million switch from Reading, and his last appearance was in an abject FA Cup defeat at Bristol Rovers in January.
Seol was unlucky that Lawrie Sanchez, the manager who brought him to Fulham, was sacked early in the season and his replacement Roy Hodgson gave him few opportunities to shine. The former Anderlecht star may have to quit Craven Cottage sooner rather than later if his career is not to stagnate.
Seol's compatriot Lee Young-Pyo is in exactly the same situation at Tottenham. Lee made only a handful of appearance in the second half of last season, and will find it hard to regain his place with Gareth Bale and Gilberto ahead of him in Juande Ramos's pecking order. The 31-year-old defender has been keen to leave for several months, but is yet to find a new club.
Another Korea Republic man, Kim Do-Heon, has the most reason for optimism as he prepares for his first full season with newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion. Kim, 26, completed a permanent move to the Hawthorns from Seongnam in June following a successful loan spell at the end of last season.
He helped clinch the Championship title for Albion with a goal just minutes after coming on as a substitute at QPR, and should figure in boss Tony Mowbray's opening day squad at Arsenal.