Is Son Heung-min a true Korean Great?
What do Son Heung-min, Joe Biden, and Muhammed Ali all have in common? Being the greatest in their games? Maybe, but something else too, think about it. And while you think about it, keep reading this. Son Heung-min is a South Korean footballer, a very successful one by almost any metric, not including trophies won and individual accolades achieved. He is almost invariously referred to as the Asian Park Ji-sung. He’s been a Tottenham Hotspur player for quite some time now and for pretty much all of that time he put in performances up there with some of the best in the Premier League. He came from pharmaceutical giants Bayer Leverkusen in about 2015, and ditched the bratwurst and morning after-pills for a prescription dose of hard work and talent. At this point in his career Son is considered by the match-going public to be one of the greatest Premier League players in the modern era, but I’m sorry to say, this is where I unfortunately disagree with the match-going public. It pains me, it really does, because usually there is a wisdom and profundity in the common man (or woman), that cannot be found anywhere other than the queue for a burger van. But I disagree here for a simple reason: There can be no true sporting greatness without exceptional greatness off the pitch as well and that off-pitch greatness is a virtue that can never be honestly attributed to Son Heung-min. For you see, on the first day of September in 2018, in the Indonesian district of Cibinong, after 120 minutes of gruelling football, South Korea beat Japan 2–1 in the gold medal match of the football tournament of the 2018 Asian Games. It was a glorious moment for those players on the team and the Korean supporters but while the people cheered, the nation wept. For, owing to an archaic loophole in South Korea’s national conscription law, any gold medal winners at the Asian Games are not compelled to serve the mandatory two years of national service in the army. You guessed it: Son Heung-min is a draft dodger.
The joy on the faces of the South Korean players was evident that day. They weren’t even trying to hide it, they had beaten the system, these lazy, welfare-addicted footballers had managed to weasel out of doing the national duty that all of their fellow compatriots had noblely carried out. How is it fair that the Seoul factory worker, a true hero, toiling day-in and day-out to stitch together the seams on Son’s Tottenham shirt, should be serving in the army for two years and come home to no parade, and yet an overpaid mercenary footballer gets celebrated for managing to get out of it.
Of course, this doesn’t diminish Son’s achievements, at the age of 29 he has already accomplished so much, he became the first Asian player to score 50 goals in the Premier League, he is the captain of his national team and has 98 caps to his name. He has 229 league appearances and 90 goals for Tottenham in just 7 years. He is, without a doubt, an inspiration to so many, not just Koreans, but children all across the Asian subcontinent, who dream of casting off the shackles of Kim Jong-Il and Xi Jinping and making something of themselves in the land of democracy and football. Which just makes it such a shame that he is a draft dodger with no respect for authority nor his fellow man. Not a great example for them to follow.
Nevertheless, it was a great run at the 2018 Asian Games which led to this. Forgetting all the bitter context surrounding it, it was an all-time, stellar tournament performance. South Korea started it off by battering Bahrain 6–0, and then had to play just two days later, which meant an unfortunate loss to the well-rested Malaysians. That could have been the end of it but for the group format, South Korea still found themselves with a chance to progress by facing Kyrgyzstan, and who should help them out but the man himself, Son Heung-min popping up with a 63rd minute winner, and what a goal it was. He must have really wanted it. Into the knockouts, they handily beat Iran 2–0 before facing an absolute slog of a match against Uzbekistan, winning 4–3 after extra time, they just would not give in. They took that momentum to Cibinong where it took them through the semi-final against Vietnam with relative ease and finally, after all that, they had the favourites, Japan, in the final game. They were really up against in that match, and it could have truthfully gone either way, but we all know now how it ended, for better or worse. It is amazing the lengths some people will go to to avoid dedicating just a few measly years of service to their country, but there you go.
In closing, on the off chance he is reading this and I have the opportunity, I would like to say just one thing to Son Heung-min. Try watching a certain film called American Sniper, and then try telling me that qualifying for the Europa Conference League was more important than doing your God-given duty for your country. I hope you’re happy.
What have you been thinking about today? Let me know @CallumRG21 on Twitter or email me firstname.lastname@example.org