Park Ji-sung is not in the least bit surprised that Cristiano Ronaldo is still producing “amazing” performances for Manchester United at the age of 36.
The pair were team-mates at Old Trafford for four years between 2005 and 2009, even winning the Champions League together in 2008.
Ronaldo made a sensational return to Manchester just before the close of the summer transfer window, and the former Juventus forward has already racked up 12 goals in 17 appearances in all competitions, including six in five Champions League outings.
Indeed, should he find the net in Wednesday’s meeting with Young Boys, Ronaldo would achieve a feat that only he has ever managed before, in 2017-18 with Real Madrid: scoring in all six group games in the same season.
Some pundits are astounded that the Portugal veteran is still scoring at such a remarkable rate, but Park always knew that Ronaldo was destined to have a long and illustrious career.
What’s been said?
“It’s not easy and very rare that a player comes back to United after previously spending his prime years at the club, but I thought if that could happen with a player, it could be Ronaldo,” Park told GOAL.
“What I remember about him was that he always had the ball next to him, even in the locker room, and right before he went onto the pitch.
“On top of that, as is well known, he was the first player to arrive at the training ground, and the last one to leave, which shows his passion for football.
“Also, I saw on many occasions that he was always trying to make himself better and better, putting pressure on himself.
“This season, I saw him play against Tottenham in London. He scored an amazing goal in that game, but I can’t even say it’s his best goal as he keeps scoring great goals – even since he returned to Man United.
“People say his performances are amazing even now at 36 years of age, but, as a team-mate who saw him doing all these things before, I believe that it’s just a natural outcome, nothing surprising.”
Ferguson’s plan to man-mark Messi
Looking back on his own Champions League memories, Park admitted that he still wonders what would have happened in the 2011 final, which United lost 3-1 to Barcelona, had then-manager Sir Alex Ferguson gone ahead with his plan to have him man-mark Blaugrana No. 10 Lionel Messi.
“We didn’t go for it in the end because Barca had so many great players at that time, not only Messi,” the former attacker reveals.
“It’s not easy to speak about something we didn’t actually do and there was only one player whom I really man-marked during a game: Andrea Pirlo. So, I don’t know what would have happened had I done it to another player.
“Messi was the best player in the world at that time. He was unstoppable, so I’m not saying 100 percent that I could have shut him down.
“It wouldn’t have been easy to mark him but, sometimes, I think about how much I could have done against him…”
Son to Old Trafford?
Park left United in 2012 and he freely admits that he would love to see another South Korean player follow in his footsteps by lining out for the Red Devils, believing Tottenham’s Son Heung-min could excel at “The Theatre of Dreams.”
“He has already proved himself in the Premier League and I believe he’s good enough to do very well at United,” Park added.
“The only minor issue would be he may not get his favourite No. 7 shirt as Ronaldo is already there!
“But if I had to pick someone other than Son, I would say either Hwang Hee-chan from Wolves or Mallorca’s Lee Kang-in, who both have good potential as players.”