Park Ji-Sung and Son Heung-Min are, without question, the two biggest football stars in Korean history. Park, now 42, won 19 trophies over his football career and had 100 caps for the Korean national team. He broke through into European prominence as a young player at PSV Eindhoven, but Park was most known as a trailblazing midfielder for Manchester United between 2005-12 where he made 134 league appearances, scoring 19 goals and helping United to four Premier League titles.
We’re all quite familiar with Sonny, his talent, and his accomplishments at Tottenham Hotspur, so it’s fascinating to watch the video embedded above from NBC — an interview between Park and Sonny where they discuss their careers, their football, and their inspiration.
The video is long (25 minutes) and mostly conducted in Korean, but it’s worth watching to see these two titans of Korean football interact. Here are some of my observations.
- I’m hardly an expert on Korean language or culture, but watching the video it strikes me that these two are speaking on a very informal level, almost as equals despite the 10-year age gap and Park’s status as a Korean football titan. We have a Korean language speaker in our Slack channel and that jumped out at them as well — there appears to be a little, but not a lot of deference from Son towards Park in their interaction. But maybe that’s to be expected, as certainly this isn’t the first time these two have interacted.
- Sonny, obviously, idolized Park growing up and considered himself a Manchester United fan because that’s where Park played his most prominent football. He even admitted to wearing a United shirt in middle school.
- Sonny also spoke about how he ended up in Germany, starting out in a development program as a teenager in Hamburg before excelling at the U17 World Cup and earning a professional contract and a toehold in European club football. It’s something I don’t recall him ever talking about publicly before. Park, meanwhile, spoke about playing first in Japan, which he found culturally difficult as a Korean national, and how moving to Europe was even tougher. He found the transition of moving from PSV to United easier than from Japan to the Netherlands.
- Son talked about his struggles adapting to the physicality of English football and how it surprised him. He was confident in his ability to take players on, but Premier League players were both strong and fast. That adaptation and an injury reduced his appearances and made his first season at Spurs difficult to deal with. He admitted he wanted to leave Spurs and return to Germany because he wasn’t enjoying his football, but that he was also young and impatient and had never experienced that much criticism at this level of football.
- Son pointed to two matches in particular — games away at Stoke and home to Middlesbrough in September 2016 where he scored braces — that changed the dynamic between himself and Mauricio Pochettino. Afterwards he started getting more regular minutes that season and began to forge a playing partnership with Harry Kane.
- One humorous moment — Park joked that Sonny never showed him the Golden Boot trophy from the 2021-22 season, and Son admitted that it’s on display “at home” (likely Korea) and that he “[doesn’t] get to see it often.”
- There was some really fascinating discussion about playing internationally for Korea and the burden of high expectation that has been placed on Son’s shoulders as national team captain. Park said he experienced that pressure too. Both agreed that they are incredibly fortunate to be essentially sporting ambassadors for Korea and the public face of an entire country, but Son admitted that there is pressure to not make mistakes as they end up reflecting on the entire country.
- Son spoke about how Park’s trailblazing for United paved the way for players like Son to break through, and how Son feels the responsibility to be a positive role model for the next generation of Korean footballers who are just now starting to play European football.
- Sonny to Park: “Legend. Korean national hero.” Park to Sonny: “That’s you now.”