Son Heung-min talks plans for the future after Games
Son returned to a hero’s welcome with his teammates at Incheon International Airport, with hundreds of fans waiting to greet the football gold medalists of the Jakarta Palembang Asian Games in Indonesia.
“It was my first time winning a competition,” Son told reporters at the airport. “I’m happy and thankful that I won with the Korean jersey. I hope I can have more moments that I can smile at in the end.”
Korea defeated Japan 2-1 in extra time to defend their Asiad men’s football title. Son assisted both Lee Seung-woo’s and Hwang Hee-chan’s goals at Pakansari Stadium in Cibinong, south of Jakarta, to help in Korea’s win.
“I can remember every single match like they happened yesterday,” he said. “There were good results and bad results. But all of them are precious moments that I don’t want to forget.”
The 26-year-old was one of three older players on the under-23 team and served as the team captain. U-23 football coach Kim Hak-bum previously said Son was a mentor to young players.
“It was the first time playing a competition as the team captain, so I was concerned,” he said. “But Hwang Ui-jo and other players helped me a lot. On the pitch, I felt more responsibility as captain.”
Son said he learned many things from the tournament that will make him become a better player.
“We had a tight schedule, and it was the first time since my middle or high school days that I played that many matches in such a short period of time,” he said. “But I learned many things. Although I was physically tired, I tried not to show it to my teammates, and I always worked hard to sacrifice for the team. The players followed me, and that’s why we got a good result.”
With the Asiad gold, Son will receive an exemption from compulsory military service. All healthy Korean men must serve about two years in the military, but those who earn gold medals at the Asian Games or any Olympic medal are exempt from the national duty. Instead, they only need to attend four weeks of basic training.
During the Asian Games, Son was supported by not only Korean fans but also fans from his English club Tottenham Hotspur. The London club gave permission to Son to compete at the Asian Games and offered him a new deal that runs through 2023. Son won the Asiad gold, so it was a win-win situation for Tottenham.
“I left my club for such a long time,” he said. “As a footballer, this can’t be the end for me. I think what’s important is the future, and I’ll try to accomplish what people want from me.”
Son also had words of advice for his young teammates who can also develop their careers without being interrupted by military service.
“During the Asian Games, I told them to just challenge [themselves] because they have potential,” he said. “I love this team, and since they are younger than me, I’ll be meeting them for a long time. I told my players to call me when they need my help.”
Son took a full day of rest on Monday, before joining Paulo Bento’s senior team for a friendly match against Costa Rica on Friday. Korea will also take on Chile on Sept. 11 at home.
Eight players, including Son, will carry on their international duty on the senior team.