Park central to South Korea's hopes

SEOUL (Reuters) - For a boy who used to drink frog juice to help him grow, Park Ji-sung has come a long way.

The shaggy-haired South Korean, once judged too frail to make the grade at college level, has muscled his way into the mix at Manchester United and punches above his weight in England's ultra-competitive Premier League.

Park's career took off under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, the Dutch master who led South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals on home soil.

Nicknamed "Three-lunged Park" for his boundless energy and terrier-like tenacity, he followed Hiddink to PSV Eindhoven after the World Cup and in his book credits the Dutchman with transforming his career.

"If it was not for coach Hiddink I would not be where I am now," he wrote in his autobiography 'Never-ending Challenge'.

"I owe him everything and I will never be able to repay it in my lifetime."

Since moving to Manchester United in 2005, Park has developed further under the tutelage of another father figure, Alex Ferguson, and taken his game to a new level.

While the skeptics initially labeled him "Park Bench," predicting he would rarely make the first 11, Park has endeared himself to the Old Trafford fans with his high-octane performances.

Park's father was so worried about his lack of size as a boy he made him drink boiled frog extract, a potion that would supposedly help him to grow.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford in Singapore; Editing by Clare Fallon)