After his poor start to the season, I’m sure I’m not the only one who was questioning Ji-Sung Park’s Manchester United future.
Now, with the Korean in the best form, at least scoring-wise, in what’s now his sixth season at Old Trafford, all of the talk is about how much he’ll be missed when he has to depart after Boxing Day to join up with South Korea ahead of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, which kicks off early next month in Qatar.
In eighteen appearances this season (15 starts), Park has already eclipsed his previous season high for goals in a United shirt, with his six surpassing the five he scored in the 2006/07 season. Four of those goals have come in his 10 Premier League appearances, including Monday’s match-winning header in United’s 1-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford, which propelled United back to the top of the table ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Chelsea.
After his early struggles, Park openly owned up to the fact that he hadn’t been at his best, and clearly he’s done something about it. Perhaps Jonny Evans could do to have a big drink of whatever it is that he’s been drinking, because he’s a big reason why United have been able to take advantage of Chelsea’s stumbles and ascend to top spot.
Unfortunately, he could miss as many as seven games due to the Asian Cup, as South Korea are undoubtedly one of the prime favorites for the competition. If they happen to advance to the final, which is January 29 in Doha, Park won’t be available again for United until a February 1 home date with Aston Villa, at the earliest.
With that in mind, what will United do to make up for his potentially extended absence? Moves for Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez and Valencia’s Joaquin have been mentioned, but another option being bandied about is an early recall for Tom Cleverley from his loan spell at Wigan. Cleverley, who’s currently dealing with a rib knock suffered last weekend against Everton, has scored twice in six Premier League starts for Wigan.
The 21-year-old has been tipped for a big future at United for some time now, and this could be the chance for him to prove that the future isn’t so far off.
But would it be the right move? It would only be the right move if he was going to be guaranteed regular opportunities, and there’s no guarantee of that. As much as training with the United first team on a daily basis would help him, it would hinder his development to sit on the bench at United when he could be earning vital experience via regular starts at Wigan from here until the end of the season.
Short of a spate of injuries (knock on wood), I don’t see the recall happening while Park’s away, but it remains to be seen.
Should Fergie bring Cleverley back sooner rather than later, or should he remain at Wigan ahead of making a run at a first-team place at United next season?
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