CHICAGO (AP) _ To some, Park Ji-sung seemed to be nothing more than a human marketing ploy when he arrived at Manchester United in 2005.
Fans figured the English Premier League team simply wanted to raise its profile and sell more merchandise in Asia, and adding a South Korean player seemed to be the easiest path for the world's most popular club to reach an even broader audience.
So much for that: Park proved he can play.
``At first, some said I was selling t-shirts,'' Park said during a recent break in Manchester United's U.S. tour stop in Chicago. ``But I made (it clear) their thought is wrong. So I'm happy.''
The midfielder isn't the flashiest player on the field, but he's usually among the hardest-working. He has earned the trust of United manager Alex Ferguson, who showed his regard for Park by starting him in last season's Champions League final against Barcelona. United lost the game, but it was another sign that Park has become a core player for one of the world's top teams.
And as United's U.S. tour moves to the New York area this week, where the Red Devils will face the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday night, Ferguson has offered Park a new two-year contract.
``His career at United has been nothing but excellent, a tremendous professional,'' Ferguson said last week. ``And I'm sure he'll accept the new offer, and tie himself to the club for the next two years.''
Park said the deal is ``in negotiations'' but not finished yet.
``It has to be signed before it's confirmed or said it's done,'' Park said. ``Still, I'm happy they offered to me to stay here. So we'll see.''
Park might be counted on more than ever as United prepares to defend its Premier League title.
Veteran Paul Scholes has retired, and while there has been speculation United could try to acquire a new star midfielder _ Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder and Arsenal's Samir Nasri have been linked with the team _ Ferguson doesn't appear in any hurry to make a big-money midfielder move in the transfer market.
``I think we'll be starting the season with the players I have,'' Ferguson said. ``And I'm satisfied with that.''
Park has gained the respect of teammates, including United's up-and-coming young players.
``He's just a workhorse,'' defender Chris Smalling said. ``He runs and runs all day long. And he brings that that quality, he can play on the wing, he can play center midfield. He's been a real credit to the team, and long may that continue.''
Park said he was never bothered by the way he was regarded when he first came to the team.
``They could think that, because Asian players, not many play in Europe,'' Park said. ``Maybe that's why people think Asian players are no good. But yeah, I'm happy to prove that Asian players can play as European players.''
If Park does extend his stay at United with a new deal, forward Danny Welbeck says it will be a popular move.
``He's definitely one of the more experienced players in the squad,'' Welbeck said. ``We all know the qualities that Ji's got and provides for the team. Everyone here will be delighted that he's got a new deal. What's going on, I'm not too sure. But he's a great player for us.''
Even if Park isn't the most vocal leader.
``He's quite quiet, he keeps to himself,'' Smalling said. ``But everybody mixes together, and I think even though we've got so many different nationalities in the squad, everybody's really together. Even though we don't all come from the same country, it's like one big family.''
Park has scored in two of United's three games on its U.S. tour so far, and says he's having fun _ even if Saturday's game, a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field, was way too hot for him.
"So far, so good,'' Park said. ``This is my first time on the tour, because I missed last time on the tour with Manchester United. Pretty good facilities, and I'm quite surprised at all the fans. It's impressive for me.''
박지성, 이제 맨유의 핵심선수: 외신
영국 프리미어리그에서 묵묵히 자신의 입지를 확고히 한 맨체스터 유나이티드의 박지성에 대해 AP통신이 자세히 보도했다.
2005년 맨유에 입단할 당시 박지성은 단순히 아시아 지역에서 팀 홍보를 위한 전략이라고 비판이 많았지만 지난 챔피언스리그 결승전에서 선발로 기용될 만큼 팀의 핵심 선수로 성장했다고 전했다.
박지성은 인터뷰에서 자신을 유니폼 판매용으로 봤던 사람들의 예상이 틀렸다는 것을 보여줄 수 있어 만족스럽다고 말했다.
알렉스 퍼거슨 감독과 동료 선수들도 그의 실력과 노력에 칭찬을 아끼지 않았다. 퍼거슨 감독은 박지성 선수의 기여도를 감안해 맨유와의 재계약이 성사되기를 원한다고 말했다. 맨유 수비수 크리스 스몰링은 박지성이 열심히 뛰는 선수라며, 지치기 않는 체력을 바탕으로 측면 그리고 중앙 미드필드를 성공적으로 소화하는 능력을 높게 평가했다.
박지성은 맨유와의 재계약에 대해 아직 협상 중이지만 구단이 자신의 잔류를 원하는 것에 대해 기쁘게 생각한다고 말했다.
미국투어 3경기서 2골을 터뜨린 박지성은 28일 데이비드 베컴과 티에리 앙리 등이 포함된 MLS 올스타와의 대결에서 팀 출전 명단에 올랐다.