Published : 2014-05-14 13:22
Updated : 2014-05-14 13:22
Park Ji-sung, one of South Korea's biggest football icons, retired from the sport on Wednesday at age 33, citing debilitating pain in his surgically repaired right knee.
Park made the announcement at JS Football Center, named after his initials in Suwon, about 45 kilometers south of Seoul. He grew up in the city, where he also has a street named after him.
Park played his last official match on May 3 with the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven and ended his second tour of duty with the Dutch club with a 2-0 win over NAC Breda. Under contract with Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in England, the midfielder was loaned to PSV for the past season, in which the club finished fourth among 18 teams in the Eredivisie, the top-flight competition in the Netherlands.
"I've been mulling retirement since February, and I've concluded that my knee won't hold up for another season," Park said. "I have no regrets about my career. I do think about what might have been if I hadn't been injured, but I have no feelings of disappointment or sorrow as I leave the sport."
Park had an operation to remove damaged cartilage in his right knee in March 2003, and four years later, underwent an articular cartilage restoration procedure. He was kept off the field for eight months after the second surgery and had occasional flare-ups on the same leg over the ensuing years.
Park was accompanied to the press conference by his parents, who appeared to be more emotional than the former South Korean captain. Park said he was able to stay composed because he accomplished more in his career than he ever imagined.
"I thoroughly enjoyed myself playing football," he said. "I want to thank everyone who's helped me over my career."
Park, who runs his own charity foundation, said that in his post-playing career, he will try to find ways to return the love and support he received from his fans.
Park, a versatile player known for tireless work ethic, leaves the sport with his legacy in international and club play well-secured.
He represented South Korea at three straight FIFA World Cups starting in 2002, and scored a goal in all three tournaments.
Park netted the winner in co-host South Korea's 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final group match in 2002, putting the country in the knockout stage for the first time ever.
Four years later, Park scored the equalizer to hold the eventual runner-up France to a 1-1 draw, but South Korea couldn't get past the group phase in Germany.
In 2010 in South Africa, Park was the South Korean captain, and scored the second goal in a 2-0 win over Greece, as South Korea reached the round of 16 for the first time away from home.
All in all, Park played 100 international matches, one of eight South Koreans with at least 100 caps.
The undersized player, overlooked by South Korean scouts out of high school, entered a minor college before making his professional debut with Japan's Kyoto Purple Sanga in 2000. Following a successful campaign at the 2002 World Cup, Park joined PSV Eindhoven, coached by Guus Hiddink, who'd managed South Korea at the World Cup.
Three years later, Park became the first South Korean to reach English Premier League, when he signed with Manchester United. He went on to enjoy the best seven-year span of his pro career, winning four Premiership titles and one UEFA Champions League crown.
Park left Man United to join another Premier League club, QPR, before the 2012-13 season. He began the season as QPR's new captain, but the club was relegated to the second-tier Football League Championship for the following season.
Park returned to PSV before the 2013-14 season and made 23 Eredivisie appearances.
Park has long been known for his ability to play anywhere in midfield and also his high work rate, which earned him the moniker "Three-Lung Park" while with Manchester United. Park's hard-nosed, all-out style of play, though, might also have been his undoing, given his history of knee problems.
Also on Wednesday, Park said he will tie the knot with a former local television personality, Kim Min-ji, on July 27. Park said last June that he'd been dating Kim, who was then working as an announcer for SBS, since the beginning of that summer, days after an online newspaper published paparazzi shots of the two out on a date in Seoul.
Park's love life had long been a subject of intense media speculation. Previously one of the country's most highly visible bachelors, Park had been a guarded and private individual who didn't give interviews outside the realms of football.
Park and PSV Eindhoven are scheduled to face two South Korean pro clubs in exhibition matches this month: first against Suwon Bluewings on May 22 and Gyeongnam FC two days later. (Yonhap)