Feature | Football

Eight things about Son Heung-Min that will make you like him even more

South Korea and Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-Min is a global force, here are a few things that you might not know about him

By Olympic Channel ·

There's no stopping Son Heung-Min.

The South Korean football superstar keeps getting better and better and, if we look at his goals and assists in all competitions (17 and 10 so far), this is his best season in yet.

That's why South Korean fans are looking forward to seeing their captain and national hero lead the team at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games this summer.

Son has already passed 100 goals for Tottenham, helped his country to Asian Games glory in 2018, won the Puskas Award for the best goal scored on the planet in 2020, and was named 'Best footballer in Asia' for a fourth time in a row in the same year.

Son is a match-winner, leader and inspiration who stays humble and plays for the team, doing what he loves with a smile on his face.

To help you get to know him a bit better we've put together a few things that might surprise you.

1. Son Heung Min's father and 4 hours of keepie-uppies

It's no secret that Son's father was hard on his two boys, a 'Tiger Dad' who expected excellence from his kids, believing in the idea that genius isn't born, it's made through hard work and dedication.

Son Woong-jung was a professional footballer himself until an injury cut his career short at 28, he knew what it takes to make it as a pro.

“As soon as I could walk, I was kicking a ball,” Son says, and by the time he was ten his father was training them like pros.

"He gave us four hours of keepy-uppies,” Son told the Guardian in 2019, the ball couldn't hit the floor for four hours.

“Both of us. After about three hours, I was seeing three balls. The floor was red. I was so tired. And he was so angry. I think this was the best story and we still talk about it when we are all together. Four hours keeping the ball up and you don’t drop it. That’s difficult, no?”

2. 'Sonaldo' dropped out of school at 16

Son grew up at a special time for Korean football.

Born in 1992 he was 10 and just old enough to understand what it meant for Korea to make the semi-final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup at home.

The 'Taeguk Warriors' defeated Italy and Spain on their way to the semi-final but couldn't get past a Germany team boasting the likes of Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose.

To put into context just how big an achievement it was for Son's country to make the semi-final - it was the best result for an Asian team at a World Cup ever, the best before that was when North Korea made the quarter finals in 1966.

Son marvelled at local players like defensive legend Hong Myung-bo, round of 16 hero Ahn Jung-hwan and striker Cha Du-ri, and of course - Park Ji-sung.

Son grew up watching Park at Manchester United and worshipped Cristiano Ronaldo.

A young Heung Min had no doubt about following his dream and dropped out of school at the age of sixteen to join Hamburger S's Youth Academy through the Korean FA Youth project. Dad came too.

Even when he signed his first professional contract for Hamburger SV in Germany, dad was there pushing him further, giving him extra training after the team had finished for the day.

“Was he a strict coach?” Son says, “Yeah. Scary, as well.”

But dad helped Son become a two-footed player he is these days, and the Spurs megastar is happy and thankful, and they look back and laugh now.

"Without tough training I wouldn't be here, I'm really grateful for these tough messages and tough training sessions," he told Britain's BT Sport.

3. Son Heung-Min still lives with his mum and dad

Being a big Premier League star usually comes with a certain lifestyle, but 'South Korea's David Beckham' still lives with his mum and dad.

He keeps it quiet and focuses on his football while living with his parents in a three-bed apartment in Hampstead, North London.

“There are different attitudes in Europe and Asia," says Son.

"Of course, people are thinking: ‘Why is he living with his family?’ But who cares about me? Who is helping me to play football? It is them. They gave up their life and they come over here to help me. I have to pay back."

“I am so grateful to them and I really am grateful for every single opportunity to make this. I know being a professional is about more than talent. It’s like my idol, Cristiano Ronaldo, who actually works more than the talent he has. I see many players who don’t have the mentality, who think talent is enough. But it’s not.”

4. Is Son Heung-Min married? Nope. Maybe later

As part of his singular focus on football, Son says that he's staying single for now.

“My father says this and I agree, as well,” Son says.

“When you marry, the number one will be family, wife and kids, and then football. I want to make sure that while I play at the top level, football can be number one. You don’t know how long you can play at the top level. When you retire, or when you are 33 or 34, you can still have a long life with your family.”

While there have been whispers of relationships with South Korean pop stars like Bang Min-ah and Yoo So-young, Son is discreet about his personal life and football is his first love.

5. Son Heung-Min: Bigger than BTS?

Son has become part of a Korean cultural wave that has swept the world.

BTS are the biggest boyband in the world, Blackpink aren't far behind, Bong Joon Ho's Parasite became the first-ever non-English-language film to win an Oscar for best picture, and Psy's Gangnam Style topped charts in more than 30 countries.

K-Sport is a global force too:

You Young is next in line to Yuna Kim's figure skating throne, Choi Ji-man and Choo Shin-soo are the latest Koreans to make it to baseball's Major League, and footballers like Kang-in Lee at Valencia are following in Son's footsteps.

But humble as ever, the Tottenham man always says that he isn't the biggest star from his country, BTS are.

And there is mutual respect between Son and BTS, when the band played Wembley Stadium in London back in June 2019, band member RM flashed a cap with 'SON' on the front, and 'Spurs' on the back while singing the song 'Anpanman'.

“Yes, I heard about that,” said Son afterwards.

“They’re famous in England too and famous around the world. So I hope that you will let them know that I’ll be cheering them on a lot too as a small supporter. Also, I don’t know if BTS’s fans will see this, but I hope you’ll let them know that I’m supporting [BTS] a lot. I’m grateful, and I’ll continue to cheer them on.”

"They've been doing unbelievable for our country and I'm really proud of them." - Son on K-Pop bands BTS and Blackpink

Also a fan of Blackpink, the support is mutual there too - one their singers Jisoo showed up at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to watch Son play.

She picked a good game as Tottenham beat Crystal Palace 4-0 that day in September 2019, Son scoring twice.

Son is always modest, always playing down his own importance and giving the credit to others, but a recent report puts him ahead of Korea's K-Pop giants.

The report by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Institute of Sport Science in December 2020 states that Son's economic impact is 'even greater than that of BTS'.

According to the ministry Son Heung-min’s economic effect is estimated at 1,988.5 billion won (1.78 billion dollars) while earlier, in September this year, they estimated the effect of BTS at the top of Billboard Hot 100 at 1,712.5 billion won.

The report cited 'consumer goods export enhancement', 'added value inducement', 'intangible value such as boys’ and girls’ pride' and a huge increase in advertising sales.

“Son Heung-min’s value is continuing to increase and his heyday is now, which implies the estimates will keep rising with time,” it concluded.

6. More Tottenham fans in Korea than in the UK

The Son effect is clear in South Korea.

Before Son, his was a country of mostly Manchester United fans thanks to the legacy of Park Ji-sung and the Manchester club's successful marketing strategy across Asia.

Park won a UEFA Champions League and four English Premier League titles in seven years in Manchester, but he left United in 2012 and Son is the new show in town.

In a country of 52 million people 21.4% of South Koreans aged 16 to 69 identify as Tottenham fans - that's around 11 million fans according to the Nielsen Fan Insights surveys as reported in Reuters.

Next on the list is Manchester United who claim 6.1% of the support.

“The popularity of Tottenham Hotspur in South Korea perfectly illustrates the positive impact a standout player can have on a sports franchise in a market halfway around the world,” said Marco Nazzari, Managing Director at Nielsen Sports.

Son isn't just a footballing phenomenon, he's a cultural icon and a commercial force.

7. Son Heung-Min inspired a Declan McKenna song

Son is obviously an inspiration on Korea's next-gen footballers, but his influence goes way beyond sport, it's another reason why they call him the 'Korean Beckham'.

Commercial videos of Son messing about at home in branded sports kit gets ten million views on YouTube and the time he tried 'British fish head pie' (His best line was definitely "if someone removed the fish heads I would eat this!") has been watched over five million times.

His appeal is such that anything he puts his name to is guaranteed to get millions of eyes on it.

Son is a pop star with serious appeal, and he recently even inspired a song by British singer Declan McKenna.

The singer is a big Spurs fan and wrote ‘Sonny’ during sessions for his much anticipated second album 'Zeros', unfortunately in the end he didn't include it on the album.

“It’s a brilliant song and I maybe should have included it in the album. It’s a really sad song and I will put it out,” he told NME.

The singer-songwriter said it sounded too much like another song.

“Sonny is a very sad song that I wrote. It’s just me playing this beautiful guitar with flat wound strings and I was sat on a sofa chair,” he recalled.

We look forward to hearing it!

8. Son cried all day when South Korea lost at Rio 2016

Things started so well for Son and South Korea at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

He scored in an 8-0 rout of Fiji, and again against Germany in a 3-3 draw, the team also defeating Mexico by a single goal to top Group C.

They drew Honduras in the quarter-final, most watchers putting Sonny's side as favourites, but Honduras defended like their lives depended on it.

Their star man was devastated when they lost 1-0 after he missed a couple of key chances.

South Korea coach Shin Tae-Yong later revealed that Son “cried all day long”, and “didn’t even eat” after the match.

Son later said said it took him a while to get over the disappointment:

“After the Olympics I was very upset. I was really down, because I played for my country and I wanted to get some medals for my country."

Neymar scored twice against Honduras in a 6-0 victory in the semi-final and led Brazil to gold at home, but Son and the team redeemed themselves.

Victory at the 2018 Asian Games football tournament helped Son and the entire team reduce their military service from 21 months to just three weeks.

His passion and dedication to playing for his country and making the fans proud simply cannot be questioned.

Now Son has another chance to shine at the rescheduled Tokyo Games this summer.