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Son Heung-Min: “I was in pain every single moment” last season

Sonny went into even more detail about his injury last season and why he kept it quiet from everyone.

Tottenham Hotspur Son Heung-Min thanks soccer fans after the... Photo by Amphol Thongmueangluang/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Son Heung-Min has yet to play a single minute for Ange Postecoglou and Tottenham Hotspur this preseason. That’s likely to change tomorrow when Spurs face Lion City Sailors in Singapore. Ahead of that, however, Sonny gave a lengthy embargoed comments to the football media in Singapore where he talked in detail about last season.

Specifically, he talked about his injury. Sonny announced a few weeks ago that he had undergone a hernia operation at the end of the season to correct a problem that he had been dealing with for the majority of the previous campaign. He revealed that he had been playing through significant pain for about nine months but had refused to go under the knife to correct it because he didn’t want to let down his teammates who were counting on him to perform.

“[Last season] I was in pain every single moment, literally. It sounds weird but every turn, running, stopping, passing, kicking, it affected everything. It was strange because in normal life, doing no exercise, it felt fine so I went on the pitch excited because I didn’t have pain when I was walking. As soon as I was on the pitch for a warm up I would be frustrated because the pain is there, every action, turning, passing, kicking… finally I made the decision at the end of the season to have the surgery and I think it’s the best decision I ever made.

“They were really tough moments. I’m the type who is always hiding the pain. I really didn’t want it to come out officially that I had an operation but I feel good, feel fresh. I feel a new man.

“Last season, the whole season in pain. It was incredible. I can’t even think about the pain, you know. Now I feel really good, fresh. The physios are still working on it because it has only been a week, 10 days so I’m looking forward to being in good shape. I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

Oh Sonny. You sweet, incredible, loveable, idiot man.

When the news first emerged that Sonny had been playing with an injured hernia for 9 months, I was nearly apoplectic with anger. That anger extended to everyone — to Son for playing at 60% for so long because he thought he’d be letting the team down if he was out for any length of time, to the Tottenham medical staff for letting him do it, and to Antonio Conte, who as manager, had the power and responsibility to tell him to shut up and get the surgery.

I’m still upset, but the anger has tempered somewhat. I still feel as though there were plenty at the club who could’ve made the correct decision and chose not to, but I’m also just shaking my head at the Athlete Brain that led Sonny to feel like he had to shoulder not only the burden of team performance but also that of fan criticism when he wasn’t playing up to standard.

Sonny himself explained his thought process the best.

“Probably people are thinking why didn’t I do the surgery as early as possible but for me it felt like for the club during the season every single moment felt like a difficult moment. I didn’t want to let the people down. I didn’t want to let the players and the staff down because that means a lot to me, and then the fans supporting me, I take the responsibility whether I played good or bad, with pain or not.

“One thing was clear, I didn’t want people to be let down by just going away in a tough moment because of the pain.”

We had a good discussion about this in the Carty Free chatroom. While we had sympathy for the level of dedication that it takes to be a professional athlete, how hyper-aware it makes you of your body and what you can handle, and the immense pressures that come with playing a the highest of levels, especially when you’re one of the players that can carry your team in a very difficult season — this was still an AWFUL decision by Son. I want to yell at him, throttle him, then give him a hug and let him know that all’s forgiven and just please don’t ever do something like that again.

Keep in mind — Sonny had the surgery after the season, had about a month’s rest, and is now pain free for the first time in nearly a year. I know that being without Sonny for a month would’ve been bad... but would being without him for a month really be worse than him playing in pain for most of the season at reduced effectiveness for several months? Might a fully healthy Sonny in the run-in made a bigger impact than a 60% Son over an extended time? It’s a good question. I have my opinion on the subject, others may disagree.

But Sonny does seem like the kind of manic professional athlete who will internalize things like this and decide to put his own safety and ability to the side because he doesn’t want to let down his teammates or his club.

I get it. I really, honestly do. I just think it’s insane. Son kept it all in — the pain, the need for surgery, everything — and quietly allowed himself be criticized by fans for his performances because of it. The wild thing is, he’s still doing it!

“I’m not going to say anything [about that] because I took this decision and had to take the responsibility. I can’t say yes it had a massive effect but the Premier League is one of the toughest leagues in the world, even if you’re 100 per cent fit it’s tough but if you can perform only 60 or 70 per cent, yeah it’s going to be a killer.

“I took the decision and I take all the blame. One thing that was just clear in these tough moments I didn’t want the players and the fans to be let down so I was holding in my pain and I suffered but it was all my decision.

“Everybody thinks in a different way. Some people in pain they want to let people know. I’m totally different. I didn’t want people to know. We are professional footballers, everyone has pain, everyone takes painkillers before the game because you are playing competitive sport and there is pain.

“I don’t know how many people go into games through the season feeling like, ‘Oh, wow I feel 100 per cent fit without pain’. I think it’s maybe one or two games a season, maybe, but you accept it because you love the sport and you have people behind you, supporting you. For me, it’s not important if people know or not. You take the decision and you have to perform.”

I love Sonny. There isn’t a lot he can do that would stop him from being one of my favorite Spurs players of all time. But I’m still angry at him, at least for now. The good news is that he’s back, and it looks as though he’ll be featuring in tomorrow’s friendly in Singapore. Sonny knows it too, and he says he’s committed to showing the fans that last year was an aberration, a blip, and that he’ll be back to playing like how we remember him.

“I just want to show that last season was not the Sonny we all know. The six seasons in a row, performing in a consistent way wasn’t lucky. It was hard work. Last season obviously wasn’t the best but I think I learned most at 30 years old. This was the year I learned most.

“I can’t say it was a fantastic season but in terms of mentality, it was just as good as two seasons ago because I could see I could bring it back from where I started. This season, I just want to show the Sonny we all know is still there.

“As a team we’re looking forward game by game. Basic answer isn’t it? It was a mess last season. As players, young and old, we should all take a big responsibility. Everyone has been around long enough.

“When you’re wearing this shirt you should know you’re playing for Tottenham, playing in the Premier League and it is not enough to give 99 per cent is not enough when the time comes. If we think like this and stick together like a family we can go back up the mountain and with no mess, this is very very important for us as a club.”

This upcoming season is a huge opportunity for Sonny. He’ll be playing for a manager in Ange Postecoglou who will understand his gifts and put him in a position to be able to best utilize them in a way that results in fun, attacking football. But to hear Sonny say it, that position is likely going to be not as a centrally-positioned forward, but again on the left wing.

“It is how I used to play, on the touchline, one-vs-one with the full-backs and creating problems for the defensive line. When I stay wide, we will have more space inside and running into the space also. Obviously we didn’t talk about any individual roles but you could see when I was not even playing against West Ham I could literally see what my role will be. It’s simple. Everyone in his position knows now what to do and how to manage their game.”