South Korean football star Park Ji-sung on Thursday admitted to dating a local television personality, giving the public a rare peek into his personal life.
At a press conference in his hometown of Suwon, south of Seoul, the 32-year-old said he has been dating announcer Kim Min-ji, 27, since the beginning of this summer.
This was Park's first public appearance since photos were published by an online newspaper on Wednesday showing him and Kim out on a date in Seoul.
Park, the midfielder for Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in the English Premier League, said he first met Kim in 2011.
"We were only friends at first, but the longer we stayed in touch, I found her to be an understanding person," Park said. "No matter what people say, she is the most lovable woman to me."
Kim joined the local network SBS in 2010. She co-hosts a weekly football highlight program with fellow announcer Bae Sung-jae.
According to Park, Bae introduced Kim to his father, Park Sung-jong, who in turn suggested the player and the announcer meet.
Park's love life has long been a subject of intense speculation. As one of the nation's most highly visible bachelors, Park has been linked to actresses and, most recently, a former beauty pageant winner.
Park said even though he is committed to his relationship with Kim, he has no immediate plan to tie the knot with her, denying rumors that they will get married in July.
"Those talks are groundless," he said. "I have to prepare for the new season in July and unless I retire from the sport, I will never get married in July."
Park is known as a guarded, private individual who doesn't give many media interviews outside football stadiums.
Park, the first South Korean to play in the English Premier League, is considered one of the country's all-time great footballers.
He made his professional debut with Kyoto Purple Sanga in Japan in 2000 and played there for three seasons. After starring for South Korea at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Park switched over to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, coached by the South Korean national team bench boss, Guus Hiddink.
In 2005, Park signed with Manchester United and enjoyed the best seven-year stretch of his professional career, winning four Premier League titles and one UEFA Champions League crown.
He left Manchester United to sign with another Premier League side, Queens Park Rangers (QPR), before the 2012-2013 season. Park opened his first season with the new team as captain but endured perhaps the most disappointing season of his professional career, as QPR was relegated to the second division Football League Championship for next season.
One of eight South Koreans to have played at least 100 international matches, Park played and scored in three straight World Cups. He retired from international play in January 2011.
After South Korea barely qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, there have been increasing calls for Park's return to the national team for next year. On Thursday, Park said he hasn't thought about that possibility and added the national team has always overcome adversity in the past. (Yonhap News)