South Korean football following the Heung-min way

  • Football
  • Friday, 17 Aug 2018

Creating stars: Son Woong-jung, father of South Korean star Son Heung-min, on the pitch with his students at the SON Football Academy in Chuncheon. — AFP

CHUNCHEON: As Son Heung-min’s career takes off in England, his legacy is already taking shape in South Korea – at an innovative academy where ball control is king and shooting is frowned upon.

The SON Football Academy in Heung-min’s native Chuncheon, run by his father Son Woong-jung, takes an unusual approach for South Korea where typically, training is strenuous and young players practise for up to eight hours a day.

But the results of too much training, too, soon can be grim, says Woong-jung, a gifted former striker who had his career cut short by an injury he blames on overwork.

“Korea’s football system is obsessed with winning ... so kids are exhausted from a young age,” he said.

Determined not to let his son suffer the same fate, he kept him from joining a football team until the age of 14 and trained him on his own, focusing on fundamentals.

So when his peers were playing 11 on 11, Asia’s future superstar worked on mastering basic skills – ball control, dribbling and passing – and for no more than two hours a day, to prevent burnout.

It paid off: the 26-year-old forward is among the few players who can comfortably shoot with both feet and recently signed a new five-year deal with Tottenham after emerging as the top Asian scorer in English Premier League history.

Now the older Son is applying the same philosophy to dozens of teenagers attending his academy in Chuncheon, a small city about 75km east of Seoul, where Heung-min spent his childhood.

The 56-year-old has big plans for the SON Football Academy, hoping to expand it to eventually include a school, football pitches, futsal facilities, a gym and a museum dedicated to his son.

The eyes of South Korea will be firmly fixed on Heung-min, their stand-out player during the World Cup, during this month’s Asian Games in Indonesia.

While lacking the prestige of the World Cup, the tournament could be career-changing for Son, as the team can expect exemptions from South Korea’s 21-month military service if they win gold.

But Son’s father said the prospect of avoiding military service was “secondary” compared to the opportunity to make his country proud.

“Of course, if we win a medal and Heung-min benefits from it, it will be a win-win for the country and for us,” said Son senior who, of course, will join his son in Indonesia during the tournament. — AFP

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