Wayne Rooney has said that former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung was just as crucial to the club’s success as Cristiano Ronaldo, with the South Korean’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the team as a whole critical to lifting titles.
Park and Ronaldo spent four years together at Old Trafford, winning three consecutive Premier League trophies, a League Cup and the Champions League in that time before the latter left the club for Real Madrid in 2009.
And while Ronaldo’s goals, skills, speed and trickery will always be at the top of the highlight reel when looking back at that side, Rooney feels that Park’s contributions were just as important as that of the Portuguese icon.
“It’s crazy but if you mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo to a 12-year-old, they would immediately say, ‘Yeah, he was a brilliant player for Manchester United,’ but if you said ‘Park Ji-sung’ they may not know who he was,” the Red Devils’ all-time top scorer said in his Times column.
“Yet all of us who played with Park know he was almost as important to our success. That’s because of what Park gave to the collective and I want to talk about teams. They – not stars – are the most important thing in sport.
“Understanding the importance of the team is all about gaining that understanding of what it takes to win. And it’s not just team play but team mentality that brings titles.
“Playing for the team is about taking on board the manager’s instructions. One player lacking discipline can kill the whole game plan.”
Rooney himself has been deployed as a midfielder more and more in the latter stages of his career and as such is able to offer insight into the difference between the free role of a centre-forward and the discipline required when sitting further back on the pitch.
“The only player who can really do their own thing is the striker,” the 34-year-old added.
“As long as the midfield and back four or five are behind, squeezing up, the striker can leave his position and press the keeper or look for space and you can keep your shape.
“But say it’s a midfielder: if the opposition plays it round them then your striker has to drop in, or if one of their forwards fills the hole then does your centre back go with him? Does your full-back then come across? One midfielder being out of position can affect a lot of players on the pitch.”