Ji-Sung Park won't turn Queens Park Rangers into a Premier League force. He may not even save the club from relegation. But his signing is the sort of low-risk high-reward move the club so desperately needed to make.
After 15 years of toiling in English soccer's lower leagues, QPR simultaneously endured and enjoyed a turbulent return to the Premier League in 2011-12. Instead of building for the long term, QPR made a number of gambles that could have blown up the considerable progress the club has made in recent years. A mad, and ultimately successful, dash for survival saw QPR keep its place in the Premier League. It now looks to consolidate its top-fligh status and move confidently into the future.
Signing the notorious Joey Barton and making him club captain in August was the first of QPR's head-scratchers. He clashed with teammates, fans and management before his spectacular (and stupid) meltdown on the final day of the season earned him a lengthy ban to start 2012-13.
In January, owner Tony Fernandes fired manager Neil Warnock — the man who guided QPR to promotion — and replaced him with Mark Hughes. He armed the former Blackburn and Manchester City boss with a relatively hefty transfer budget, which he used to bring in the likes of Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse at the close of the January window.
The new hire (Hughes) and new signings struggled to make an impact early on, and it looked like relegation was a certainty. But QPR somehow banded together and won its last five home games to secure a place in next season's Premier League.
Signing Park represents a welcome bit of sanity and a good piece of business. He comes to the historic club from Manchester United, for whom he played 133 Premier League games and scored 19 goals. The versatile Korean won one UEFA Champions League and four Premier League titles in seven seasons with the Red Devils.
The £2 million ($3.1 million) transfer fee — which could rise as high as £5 million ($7.7 million) is a pittance for a player that is, by all accounts, a model professional and consummate teammate.
"I can't wait to start working with him because every report we've had about him as a footballer and a person, he's top of the pile, very motivated and still feels he has success ahead of him," Hughes said of Park.
"It's a significant signing for us as a club and it's going to really help where I want to take the team and where the clubs wants to go as a whole."
Park can play a number of positions in the midfield and can even be deployed along the forward line (behind a striker). He gives Hughes added flexibility on the field, but his impact off it will probably be more considerable.
His familiar face should help on-loan United fullback Fabio da Silva settle at the club. It will be the first time the young Brazilian will be separated from his twin brother Rafael, but if he maintains his focus, he should play anywhere from 25-40 games in all competitions.
Park, 31, is arguably Asia's most accomplished soccer player, and he maintains hero status in South Korea and beyond. He played 100 times for his national team, and his success at club level has fueled the dreams of a generation of players in the Far East.
His addition gives QPR more visibility and relevance in that market than any other signing or marketing promotion could have done. It also adds a dose of serenity to the club's image that it needs now more than ever. Fans who may not be familiar with the madhouse the club was in 2011-12 might even adopt Queens Park Rangers as their new favorite team on the strength of Park's arrival.
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