Son Heung-Min is easily one of the most likable players in the Premier League.
On the pitch, he’s an incredible talent. He’s quick, skillful, determined, and able to finish with both feet. Off the pitch, he seems like a great character to have in a locker room. When people talk about “smiles that light up a room,” they’re talking about Sonny.
Son is making a case to be considered the best Asian footballer of all time, but it took hard work for him to get to where he is now. Spurs’ South Korean star recently sat down with David Hytner of The Guardian for an extended interview about his development, and specifically about the role his father played in that development.
The Tottenham forward’s father, Son Woong-jung, was a former professional footballer who made it to a good level in South Korea, and he had begun to coach his boys, making it his mission to guide them to the top, avoiding the pitfalls that he encountered. On this occasion, he saw red and, to borrow the word Son uses, decided to impose a forfeit.
“He gave us four hours of keepy-uppies,” Son says. “Both of us. After about three hours, I was seeing three balls. The floor was red [through bloodshot eyes]. I was so tired. And he was so angry. I think this was the best story and we still talk about it when we are all together. Four hours keeping the ball up and you don’t drop it. That’s difficult, no?”
Wait, what? Son did not let the ball hit the ground? In four hours? As a 10-year-old? “No,” he says. Impossible! Son’s gaze is steely. “No, not once,” he replies.
This is always a tricky subject to talk about. Son’s dad seems like he was quite tough, possibly too tough at times, but it’s hard to dispute the results.
Son recognizes that his father’s ways were strict. Still, he also recognizes that those intense training methods may be partially responsible for his success as a footballer.
“Was he a strict coach?” Son says. “Yeah. Scary, as well.” Yet the tone is affectionate. In Korean society, a father’s word tends to be law. Son has followed it; he has embraced it.
“My father was thinking of what I needed all the time. He has done everything for me and without him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. As a player, you need some help. It’s also important to meet a great manager and then there’s luck, too. Everything has come together for me.”
Spurs fans know Son as an incredibly easy-going person who is always laughing and always has a smile on his face. That persona contrasts a bit with what one might expect given his strict football-based upbringing, but Son’s father has also taught him important values that apply to all of life, not just the game he is so skilled at.
“My father told me when I was young that if I was through on goal but an opponent fell and hurt themselves, I should put the ball out and check on the opponent. Because if you’re a good footballer but don’t know how to respect others, you’re nobody. He is still saying that to me. Sometimes it’s difficult but we are humans before we are footballers. We should respect each other. On the pitch, off the pitch – why should it be different?”
Son is always respectful, which is more than can be said for some top footballers in the division.
He’s also just really good. The 26-year-old has managed 11 goals and five assists during a campaign in which he has traveled quite a bit for international duty and during which he has played in a squad that has suffered injury after injury to key players.
But Son has stayed healthy! And Spurs will need him to avoid spending too much time on the trainer’s table. The club face a fight to stay in the top four, and will find out a week from today who they will face in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
Son closed the interview out with one more lesson his father had taught him: this time, it was about love.
“My father says this and I agree, as well,” Son says. “When you marry, the number one will be family, wife and kids, and then football. I want to make sure that while I play at the top level, football can be number one. You don’t know how long you can play at the top level. When you retire, or when you are 33 or 34, you can still have a long life with your family.”
If you’re crushing on Sonny, there’s still hope. He’s single! You just have to be in a prime position to make your move when he’s ready to hang up his cleats.
We must protect Son Heung-Min at all costs. He is so unbelievably wholesome, and he always represents Tottenham Hotspur well both on and off the pitch.