Overseas Korean News

football-player
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yonhapnews
Date
2021.06.03

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연합뉴스이미지

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football-player 
Meet Son Heung-min: Tottenham star, S. Korean captain and ultimate teammate
By Yoo Jee-ho
   SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- Son Heung-min has made a career out of scoring goals, and he just had his best goal-scoring season for Tottenham Hotspur, netting a career-high 22 goals in 51 matches at all competitions.
   But when he takes off the cockerel on Spurs' kit and puts on the tiger on the South Korean national team jersey, Son turns into a different type of player, focusing more on setting up his teammates than on seeking goals for himself.



   "I have zero greed for goals. I only want the team to do well," Son said in a wide-ranging online interview Thursday from the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. He has been in training camp there since the start of the week to prepare for three World Cup qualifying matches scheduled for this month.
   "I only think about how I can best help my teammates. I want them to score goals," Son added. "When I was younger, I tried to score goals myself, but I've changed. I can score goals only because of my teammates. If I help them, then they will help me later too. This is a team sport, and I can't do things all by myself."
   At 28, Son is now part of the senior leadership group on the team. And for Son, being a good teammate isn't just about making passes on the field. He wants to be the big brother figure and pay it forward for younger players on the team.
   He said he sees a bit of his younger self in the 19-year-old forward Jung Sang-bin, who has been named to the senior national team for the first time.



   "He came up to me the other day, but he was too shy to say anything," Son said with a smile. "I've been trying to start conversations with younger guys. I don't want them to think I am hard to approach."
   Son said there's nothing shy about the plays Jung and others in their early 20s have been making on the pitch.
   "I want to praise them for being aggressive and doing the things that they want to do at will," Son said. I wasn't like that when I was their age. And I can see that they're improving every day. It's up to veterans to help them get even better."
   Son has 26 goals in 89 matches for South Korea, and has been held to just two goals in his past 10 matches, some of which were against teams inferior to the competition he faces on a weekly basis in the Premier League.
   Son will have a chance to pad his goal total this month, as South Korea will wrap up the second round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup against three underdogs: Turkmenistan on Saturday, Sri Lanka next Wednesday and Lebanon on June 13.
   South Korea should have little trouble against these opponents, but Son guarded against any premature optimism.



   "I don't think there is such a thing as a weak opponent in football. And no victory is ever guaranteed before you play," Son said. "We'll all try our best to win these matches."
   These matches will also be an opportunity for South Korean players to redeem themselves after a demoralizing 3-0 loss to Japan in March. Son wasn't available for the match because of an injury, and his absence has been cited as a key reason for the defeat against the rival nation.
   Son said he hasn't brought up that match with his teammates -- "I know the guys were disappointed, and I don't want to open old wounds," he said, adding that he'll try to change the narrative surrounding the team this month.
   "We let our fans down, and we want to win them back with these three matches," Son said. "I promise you we'll do the best we can, and we'll put a smile on the faces of our supporters."
   The Saturday match against Turkmenistan will be Son's 90th for South Korea. If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn't wiped out most of the international football calendar for 2020, Son would have topped or have been closer to his 100th match, which will put him in the exclusive Century Club.
   "We normally play 10 international matches a year, and I feel like I've been robbed of those 10 matches," Son said with a smile. "But health comes before football. I am honored just to have the opportunity to play for the country."



   Not having to travel to South Korea or other countries for international duty in the middle of the Premier League season has been a blessing in disguise for Son. He admitted long flights and subsequent jetlag do take their toll on him, though the excitement of playing for the country often outweighs any physical issues he may have.
   Son sidestepped questions about his future with Tottenham -- he has been linked to other clubs, with his contract set to expire in 2023 -- and rumors that ex-Chelsea boss Antonio Conte will take over the Spurs.
   "I am here to focus on the national team," Son said.
   Despite establishing a career high in goals this past season, Son said he is never satisfied with himself.
   "When I look back on seasons, I always think about things that I could have done better," Son said. "I don't think I played well this year. I can only think of things that I didn't do as well as I wanted. I am trying to get better and better."
   Asked about his career goal, Son said he'd like to keep it to himself.
   "Since the day I started playing football, I've been chasing this dream of mine, but I'd rather not share it," he said. "I think I'll be able to realize that dream if I continue to put in the work. I am trying to get better every moment."


   jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)


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