Sport & Culture

South Korean Superstar Park Ji-sung Switches UK Teams

Recent Features

Sport & Culture

South Korean Superstar Park Ji-sung Switches UK Teams

One of the world’s football stars to play for one of Asia’s leading business icons, writes John Duerden.

One of Asia's—and the world's—biggest sports stars is now playing for one of its best-known businessmen, and helping to promote one of the continent’s most successful companies.

Welcome to the football in the 21st century.

Earlier this week, South Korean superstar Park Ji-sung surprisingly left Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world, to sign for fellow English Premier League team Queen’s Park Rangers, more commonly known as QPR.

"It was a very difficult decision to leave United," Park said. "But I told them I wanted to leave because I had a great offer. I was offered more money [elsewhere] but QPR offered me something more interesting. If QPR hadn't explained their future, I might have stayed."

QPR is a well-known team in England but has never really registered in Asia.

The first step to that changing took place in August 2011 when Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes completed his takeover of the London club.

Fernandes is the man behind Air Asia.

At the time, QPR was returning to the Premier League after a gap of 15 years and struggled in its first season, escaping relegation only on the final day of the season.

The chairman and his coach Mark Hughes have been spending money to ensure that the drop to the second tier is not going to be a concern in the 2012/13 season.

Signing Park, who has won four English Premier League titles in seven years with Manchester United, was a surprise move. The 31 year-old has been a popular figure at the club despite struggling for playing time in the second half of last season. It was expected that he would stay for at least one more season, or, if he did leave, it would be to a major club.

"We're bringing a great player to London. It is a statement, I suppose,” Fernandes said. "The player saw our determination. People will read into it that we are serious. It makes people look up a little bit around the world. It will wake up a few people.”

Park is a huge figure in South Korea, and well-known and liked all over Asia. Having one of the continent’s sporting icons sporting a shirt with the name ‘Air Asia’ blazoned across it, is not going to harm the airlines business.

Park is going to make his debut for the team in Asia. QPR are playing three games in Malaysia and Indonesia – all in cities that Air Asia flies to.

It is still, mostly, just about the football. Park is a player that improves the team. If he can settle in London, and there is no reason why he can’t, he can help take QPR to new heights. There are plenty of others who can take care of the business side of things.