So yesterday I wrote about how Son Heung-Min had recently had surgery to correct a sports hernia at the conclusion of the Premier League season. While there hadn’t been many details about how long Sonny had been injured, it seemed reasonable to conclude that this might have been one reason why he had a somewhat decreased performance over this past season, one year removed from a Premier League golden boot.
Today, Sonny himself talked about his injury and surgery, revealing that he had been playing injured for 8-9 months and WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK
More from Son on playing through injury in 22/23: “Even for simple actions like passing or turning, every movement starts from your core muscles, but that’s exactly where my pain was. I was only able to do 60% of what could do at 100% [throughout the season].” ( : TV Chosun)— Steve Han • 한만성 (@realstevescores) June 14, 2023
I... I can’t. Y’all, I can’t even. I’m so angry about this I can hardly type this out. Nine months is practically the entire season, and to hear Sonny describe the injury just makes me want to cry. And scream. And fly to Italy to yell in Antonio Conte’s face.
Now, I’m sure Sonny had a lot to do with this as well. Perhaps even the lion’s share of culpability. We know Son is desperate to play all the time, and has a history of playing through pain especially so that he’s available for South Korea. Remember when he broke his arm and played in a soft cast, or picked up a facial injury and had to be basically dragged to surgery to correct it so he could play in a mask? A nine month time frame suggests that he was injured some time in the first half of the season, which might have put him in danger of not being able to play for South Korea in that ridiculous winter World Cup.
Also, athletes are crazy people who want to compete and hate being sidelined by injury, so there’s plenty of motivation for Son to either not tell anyone about being hurt, or to ignore medical advice. There’s a sports culture that incentivizes keeping things like this secret, just as that same culture incentivizes coaches to play injured athletes if they think they can play, even if it’s not in their best interest to do so. And Son being self-deprecating to the point of comedy, especially with the Korean football media, means that he was always unlikely to pull himself from competition if there was any chance he’d be able to play.
But that’s exactly why there has to be a structure in place for the medical staff, or the head coach, to force players to sit out and deal with their injuries, if only so that they don’t do further harm to themselves by trying to play through the pain. It’s not clear how much whether the medical staff knew about this, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t know SOMETHING was going on. And if the medical staff knew, then Conte knew. If Conte knew, then it’s up to him to talk to Son and tell him to sit his ass down so he can heal, or someone above him needs to tell Conte to do it. Clearly none of that happened, the club suffered for it, and it was because there wasn’t a system in place to protect players and listen to medical professionals.
another issue with Spurs' terminal overreliance on coaches is that building a structure where the only person properly above the coach is the chairman means there isn't someone with day-to-day authority to tell the coach to listen to club doctors— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) June 14, 2023
The worst part about all of this is that Sonny played almost every game this season, and in a World Cup, and was CLEARLY regressing compared to last season. And we wondered about why! Was it Conte’s tactics? Did Sonny just fall off a cliff? Maybe it was all of those things, but I think we can also now safely say it was in part because he was playing with a goddamn hernia for the whole season. So sure, after yelling at Conte, I also want to fly to Korea and scream in Sonny’s face (and then afterwards give him a hug because despite it all I just can’t stay angry at him).
Now if there’s a silver lining in this cloud, it’s that Son might be able to bounce back next season under Ange Postecoglou and put up numbers and performances that are more like 2021-22 than 2022-23. But Sonny playing injured, and both Conte and the club’s medical staff enabling that, hurt Tottenham Hotspur badly. Spurs had options on the bench to replace some of Son’s production, including Richarlison (who was himself injured after the World Cup) and later Arnaut Danjuma. Instead, Sonny was allowed to continue to play while hurt. We should all be upset about that.