It was one of the biggest matches of his career. There was a trophy at stake, but the real prize was something much more valuable.
In South Korea, it is compulsory for all men to attend military service for 21 months before they turn 28. After turning 26 last month, Son Heung-Min was running out of time and it looked like he would be taking a hiatus from the professional game, to swap the football boots for military boots. But there was one thing he and his teammates could do to avoid the service.
Being a world-class footballer does not exclude Korean’s from duty, but winning an Olympic medal, or a gold medal at the Asian games are the only ways South Korean footballers can become exempt. Son could have been made exempt in 2014 if he had played at the 2014 Asian Games, but Bayer Leverkusen refused his release at the time. South Korea went on to win gold, and the squad were allowed to continue their football careers without interruption.
A few other South Korean footballers have also managed to escape their duties. The squad that reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup were all given special exemptions. But for Son it all came down to the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
South Korea had beaten Vietnam 3-1 in the semi-finals and faced Japan in the final. Both teams had played at the World Cup so both squads were familiar with eachother. Neither team could break the other down and after a goalless 90 minutes it went to extra time. Son knew that he would need to pull something out of the bag to return back to the Spurs camp and Premier League and Champions League football, and that’s exactly what he did.
In true Hollywood style, Son set up both of Korea’s extra time goals to win the game 2-1. Sone sank to his knees at the final whistle as everyone at Spurs sighed with relief. Son has been one of the key men at Spurs over the past few seasons.
This is a player you can’t keep your eyes off because he is full of determination, energy and surprises. You always see him unlock the door for Spurs by scoring a goal or setting one up. He’s very good at doing the simple things well and those are often the hardest. If Spurs are to go all the way this season they will need everyone including a confident Son to be firing at their best.
Bayern Munich have shown their interest in the midfielder, but Levy will want to keep hold of him unless he receives an offer he can’t refuse.
“As a footballer, this is not the limit of my ambitions. I think what’s important is the future, and I’ll try to accomplish what people want from me,” Son said.