11 Years Ago Today, Sir Alex Ferguson Told Park Ji-Sung To Man-Mark Andrea Pirlo And It Was Genius
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"Your job today is not about touching the ball, it's not about making passes, your job is Pirlo. That's all. Pirlo."
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson certainly made his intentions clear ahead of the club's Champions League last 16 clash against AC Milan in 2010. Andrea Pirlo was a game-changer but so was Park Ji-Sung. He needed him more than ever. And he delivered.
The South Korean midfielder, known for his incredible work rate and energy, produced a typically no-nonsense display in the two-legged tie, following his manager's instructions with perfect precision.
In fact, in the second leg at Old Trafford, the Italian playmaker made just 21 passes.
United dominated the tie and went through 7-2 on aggregate but it was Park's efforts in the middle of that park that made all the difference. He man-marked Pirlo out of the game, tracking his every move like a guard dog. It was a masterclass in defending.
"I'm sure Pirlo expected to wake up and see Park Ji-sung in his bed!", said Rio Ferdinand years later.
Pirlo even discussed Park in his autobiography; I Think Therefore I Play.
"Even Sir Alex Ferguson, the purple-nosed manager who turned Manchester United into a fearsome battleship, couldn't resist the temptation." wrote the former Italy international.
"He's a man without blemish, but he ruined that purity just for a moment when it came to me. A fleeting shabbiness came over the legend that night.
"At Milan, he unleashed Park Ji-sung to shadow me. He rushed about at the speed of an electron. He'd fling himself at me, his hands all over my back, trying to intimidate me. He'd look at the ball and not know what it was for.
"They'd programmed him to stop me. His devotion to the task was almost touching. Even though he was a famous player, he consented to being used as a guard dog."
Ji Sung Park had Pirlo in his pocket pic.twitter.com/PBdm31C3ow
- Fergie's Fledglings (@RedDevilTimes) June 25, 2015
Rio Ferdinand also discussed that game against AC Milan on BT Sport last year. He was still in awe at Park's performance.
"I remember we played against Milan in Milan and Pirlo was at the centre of everything that they done," the former England international said.
"The manager played Ji-sung Park on him, it was a man-marking job, and I'm sure Pirlo woke up the next morning, looked at the bottom of his bed and expected to see Ji-sung Park there.
"He was that good. Whatever the manager set out for him to do, whether it was defend against somebody, stop someone playing or go in there and make a difference in the opposing team's box, he'd carry that out."
"I'm sure Pirlo woke up the next morning, looked at the bottom of his bed and expected to see Ji-Sung Park there!"
"He was that good."
In honour of Ji-Sung Park's 39th birthday...@rioferdy5 recalls the time he nullified the Italian legend in Milan :flag_kr::muscle: pic.twitter.com/zWCJVYysbh
- Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 25, 2020
Having lifted almost everything there is to win in football, you'd think Sir Alex Ferguson would have very few regrets from his 26 years at Old Trafford, but one big regret he does have involves Park Ji-Sung.
As we all know, Park was often deployed by Fergie when it came to big matches. When he wanted to stifle the opposition's playmaker, the South Korean would famously produce the goods on numerous occasions.
In fact, Park did his destroying act several times on route to the victorious Champions League run back in 2008, but didn't feature in the final against Chelsea.
That decision to leave him out still irks Ferguson every day.
Speaking in an interview with MUTV, the Scotsman explained: "To win the European Cup is fantastic. It was a really great bunch of players with a great attitude about them and a good, strong squad.
"My problem in the 2008 final, maybe I even regret it to this day, was I left Ji-sung Park out completely in the final.
"He'd played such a great role and that's the problem when you get to these finals.
"At Wembley [in 2011] I did it to Dimitar Berbatov and he took it badly. He didn't deserve it. No player deserves to be left out of the final.
"That's why we try hard at these European seminars with the coaches to try to get 11 subs in the final.
"You've got four or five sitting in the stand who made fantastic contributions in getting there."