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.''
Connect with AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins