Ji-Sung Park: Asian Provocateur

Park Ji-Sung is not a controversial figure. However, last week he may have done something very interesting with potentially far-reaching consequences. And barely anyone noticed.

There was an understandable if disproportionate furore surrounding Anton Ferdinand’s refusal to shake the hands of John Terry and Ashley Cole. But there was also the relative non-event of QPR captain Park also snubbing Terry, during the pre-match ritual and when carrying out the similarly mundane coin toss. It is perhaps in keeping with Park’s valued-if-workmanlike style of play and low-profile (in England at least) that such a thing might slip under the radar, but this is what makes it such an intriguing gesture.

Park’s decision could have been triggered by three things:

· An attempt to curry favour with his new team-mates – Park perhaps sought a way of establishing an immediate sense of loyalty and kinship amongst those in the dressing room.

· The club captaincy – Park has been tasked with leading a cobbled-together band of misfits, and such provocative grandstanding may have been his way of legitimising his credentials, particularly amongst Rangers fans.

· Friendship with Rio Ferdinand – Perhaps he felt he owed it to Rio, older brother of Anton, and a former Manchester United team-mate of seven years.

All three of these factors would’ve given Park something to think about, but they were ultimately united by one over-riding notion – a lack of respect for John Terry. The idea of someone disliking the Chelsea captain is hardly mind-blowing, but footballers are given the requisite media training needed in order to publicly mind their P’s and Q’s. This has the unfortunate consequence of diluting personalities until they run clear, much like chronic dysentery, to the point where we are left with Michael Owen tweeting that he “had a belting haircut earlier!”. Someone as inoffensive as Park breaking rank in such a manner would’ve raised more eyebrows, had they not all been pointed the way of Anton’s anti-racism shake-snub.

Gary Neville spoke of the over-reaction to the latest handshaking drama, and said that there have only been a few instances where the gesture has not been fulfilled as intended. These previous incidents share a theme: Wayne Bridge refused to shake John Terry’s hand after the Chelsea defender slept with his wife; Luis Suarez refused to shake Patrice Evra’s hand after he felt he had been falsely accused of racism; Anton Ferdinand refused to shake Terry’s hand after the latter’s acquittal for the racial abuse of the former. Three separate incidents, but they all have one thing in common – direct provocation. Wherever you stand on the ethics of those rebuffs, the lack of a handshake was prompted in each case by one man feeling he had been wronged by another.

This is why Park’s disregard of Terry is so fascinating, as he wasn’t provoked at all. He simply didn’t respect Terry enough to want to engage him in a gesture of goodwill. With it, he crossed a boundary from which we may not be able to return. You only have to look at the current rash of side-shaved haircuts to see that football players are inherently Pavlovian and lack imagination. What’s more, they’re aggressive and hyper-aware of their own image.

Where does this now stop? What if Gareth Barry beats Peter Crouch the night before a game in a particularly heated game on X-Box Live? What if Wayne Rooney tweets an unsavoury hashtag to Vincent Kompany? What if Emmanuel Frimpong should accidentally spill Danny Guthrie’s tea on the set of Soccer AM?

What if players did resort to not shaking hands based on lesser disputes? Would it really be a black eye to sportsmanship, or would it be a moral victory of sorts? It could be good to see some semblance of personality restored to the modern footballer. People can’t all get along, so why do we expect footballers to always be friends? Perhaps it would be refreshing for footballers to offer a more accurate representation of real life, something that they’ve become ever more detached from in the pursuit of gilded careers.

Even before the latest, dullest twist in The Anton and Terry Show, Premier League managers across the board backed the suggestion that pre-match handshakes should be scrapped altogether. While Neville feels that such a decision shouldn’t be dictated by the few unpleasant incidents that have occurred over the course of four years, perhaps greater consideration should be paid to the potential repercussions of Park’s decision to vote with his hand – by withdrawing it altogether.

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