Park Ji-sung is no stranger to holding a press conference, but the versatile midfielder admitted Monday that the one announcing his retirement from international football was the “toughest” of his career.
“I’ve done many interviews, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen so many reporters gathered in one place,” Park said in a news conference at the Korea Football Association’s office in Seoul.
Speaking in front of hundreds of local reporters and camera crews, Park said it was the right time to end his international career, after playing for the national team for the past 11 years.
Park Ji-sung poses before announcing his retirement from the Korean national team Monday at KFA’s office in Seoul. Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald
“It’s been a great honor to wear the national team jersey. I can’t forget the past 11 years,” said the 30-year-old midfielder.
“Playing in the national team jersey requires great physical strength and dedication, but I feel that I can no longer commit the required effort.”
Still, at 30, it would seem early to retire from international football. Park said, however, he was making the decision to allow “new young values to find their place” in the team.
“It was a hard decision for me but I think it is an appropriate time to step aside and allow younger players the opportunity to progress,” he said.
Asked about possible candidates to take his position, Park named 19-year-old Son Heung-min of SV Hamburg, the youngest player on the team, and 22-year-old Cerezo Osaka midfielder Kim Bo-kyung.
“Not only those two, but also there are now so many talents in our team. I think I should make room for them so that they can prepare for the 2014 World Cup,” he added.
Park, who has 100 caps for the national side, made his international debut in April 2000, after being picked by manager Huh Jung-moo for the 2000 Olympic squad.
Dubbed the “double-hearted oxygen tank,” the hard-working player featured in every game in the 2000 Olympics, and was present at the World Cups of 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Park said the 2002 World Cup was his most memorable competition. “It was the happiest moment in my football career so far,” he said.
His most famous score for his country was a winning goal in Korea’s 1-0 victory over Portugal at the 2002 World Cup.
Becoming an overnight sensation afterwards, Park moved to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in 2003 from J-league side Kyoto Purple Sanga.
After a successful two-year stint in the Netherlands under the guidance of manager Guus Hiddink, Park joined one of world’s most prominent clubs, Manchester United, at the end of the 2005 season.
Park, who became the first Asian to play in the UEFA Champions League final in 2009, has helped the English team win three League titles.
Park, who recently played his 100th international match at the Asian Cup, will now focus on his career in the English Premier League.
“I think I can keep playing at the big clubs at least four more years,” he added.
Meanwhile, on Monday Park was appointed as an honorary ambassador for the National Commission for Jeju New7Wonders of Nature.
Jeju Island is a finalist in the international “New 7 Wonders of Nature” campaign being waged by an organizer in Switzerland. An international panel of experts will pick the winners in November after tallying Internet votes from the public.
Park vowed Monday to use his international fame to help Jeju to grab attention and more votes across the world.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)