By Steve Griffiths (AFP) – May 25, 2011
LONDON — Park Ji-Sung has revealed that frog juice is the bizarre secret behind the lung-bursting energy that makes the South Korean a key part of Manchester United's bid to beat Barcelona in the Champions League final on Saturday.
Park's high-octane style will be an essential ingredient in Sir Alex Ferguson's recipe for success against the Spanish champions at Wembley, but it is a much more unlikely concoction that laid the foundations for the midfielder's rise to prominence.
After showing promise as a schoolboy footballer, Park's progress was in danger of stalling because he lacked the physique required to cope with the demands on a top player's body.
In a bid to fast-track Park's growth, his father would make the long journey from their home in Suwon to Go-heung county, where he would visit frog farms to gather the ingredients for an unusual protein drink.
Once back home, the frog's juice would be boiled up before Park gamely swallowed it down.
Park admits the juice tasted disgusting but the skinny teenager was happy to try anything to aid his dream of becoming a footballer.
"My father went to catch wild frogs. I was skinny and weak and my father heard their juice would give me size and strength," Park said.
"It tasted very, very bad but I had to drink it because I wanted to be a footballer and everyone said I needed to be bigger and stronger.
"They said it was good for my health to become stronger and I ate anything that would improve my health."
Now well established as a significant figure in Ferguson's squad, Park no longer has any need for frog juice.
His astonishing work-rate, an astute tactical brain and under-rated ability on the ball have combined to make him an unsung hero with the Premier League champions.
The 30-year-old has played a major role in United reaching a third Champions League final in four years and this time he is hoping for a happy ending.
Park was left out of the squad for the 2008 victory over Chelsea in Moscow - a decision Ferguson admitted "almost broke my heart". And although he was selected the following year in Rome when United lost 2-0 to Barcelona, an under-whelming display left Park with a few regrets.
"Missing out on one final and losing another makes me more eager to play and win this game," he said.
"If I play and we win the game it will be fantastic for me. It is my dream but I have to play 100 percent for my dreams to come true."
Facing Barcelona again offers Park and his team-mates a chance for redemption after the defeat in Rome, but Pep Guardiola's team have been in such good form this season that many pundits expect another Catalan triumph this weekend.
Park is well aware Lionel Messi and company will be formidable opponents again, but he is confident United can find a way to upset the odds.
"Obviously Barcelona are one of the best clubs in the world so if we beat them we will create the perfect final - for me as well," he said.
"It is a great game against one of the best teams in the world. They have changed a couple of players from 2009 but their style has not changed.
"We have changed as well. I don't know what way we will play but we have to show a difference from 2009."
If United are to win a fourth European Cup, Ferguson must find a way to disrupt Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta and much rests on Park's ability to harry them out of their rhythm.
"I don't know which role I will have in the final but I have to do it 100 percent and play only for winning the game," he said.
"We have to keep an eye on Messi in the game. Some players have said to me that I can stop him - that sounds great but one man can't stop him, we have to play as a team. Everyone will give 100 percent to stop him.
"If we play as a team like we showed against Chelsea or in other big games we can match up against them."
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