Footballers on TV: Son Woong-jeong

Son Woong-jeong appears on tvN's You Quiz on the Block

With a successful World Cup in the books, Korea national team players (and those around them) have been in high demand for TV show appearances. Most footballers rarely appear on Korean broadcasts for a variety of reasons, so when they do come out every four years it can be fun to listen and see what stories they tell and possibly show a different side to them.

The first person to appear is not a national team player, but he’s probably as famous as most of them. He is Son Woong-jeong (손웅정), Son Heung-min’s (손흥민) father. He appeared on the popular tvN program, You Quiz on the Block (유 퀴즈 온 더 블럭). A program hosted by Yoo Jae-suk (유재석) and Jo Se-ho (조세호) that features various people from all walks of life. They interview them about their field and then have a one question quiz where the interviewee can win $1,000 (100만원) cash.

Clarifying rumors and Son Heung-min’s start

First off, Son Woong-jeong wanted to clarify that while he is strict, he is not someone who is unnecessarily angry for no reason, and that he is normally a very cheerful person. He also described himself as a ‘3rd team’ player when he was younger, and had to retire after tearing his achilles during a match. For reference, Son Woong-jeong played professionally for five seasons at Sangju Phoenix (상주불사조, present-day Gimcheon Sangmu), Hyundai Tigers (현재호랑이, present-day Ulsan Hyundai), and Ilhwa Chunma (일화천마, present-day Seongnam FC).

Because of his experiences as a player and because of the environment that surrounded people who wanted to become athletes at the time (very negative), he said he never considered trying to get Son Heung-min to become a footballer. However, Son Heung-min showed a lot of interest in balls and sports when he was a young child, and that interest in football then grew naturally. Son Heung-min ‘started’ football when he was in 3rd grade. His father said he made sure that Son really wanted to play because it was necessary to purchase insurance. Son insisted that he wanted to do it.

Training with Son Heung-min

He spoke briefly about how he worked with Son Heung-min when Son Heung-min was younger to ensure that he was able to use both feet equally well to reduce the time defenders had to react. Son Woong-jeong insisted that the most important thing is for a player to be solidly proficient in ‘the fundamentals’ (primarily being able to control the ball with all parts of the body). So, when Son Heung-min was younger, from 3rd grade in elementary school to 3rd grade middle school (9th grade for Americans), the two spent hours (six hours to be more exact) every day doing drills to master this (someone called the police on Son Woong-jeong for drilling Son Heung-min so hard).

A young Son Heung-min. Screenshot from You Quiz on the Block

Son Woong-jeong also commented on how he practices with Son Heung-min (these days) to be able to shoot from distance (the ‘Son Heung-min Zone’) by doing weight training every morning and then taking a 1,000 practice shots. Interestingly, Son Woong-jeong said that he never practiced power shooting with Son until after he was 18 years old in order to protect Son’s joints and muscles from excessive usage and overstrain.

Son Woong-jeong insisted that Son Heung-min never complained because despite it being a lot of hard work, Son loved football so much that he ultimately enjoyed just playing. Additionally, Son Woong-jeong does all the training with Son Heung-min, so it is not a case of him constantly ordering and demanding Son Heung-min do a lot of physical work on his own, but both of them doing it together.

Hamburg and Son’s first goal

Son Woong-jeong also talked about when Son Heung-min first went to Hamburg as a youth player. At that time, they didn’t have a lot of money, but in order for Son Heung-min to do well he went with him to Hamburg. Son Heung-min stayed in the dormitory for youth players while Son Woong-jeong stayed at the hotel closest to the dorm. In the morning, Son Woong-jeong would go to the dorm and clean up Son Heung-min’s room and then the two would do strength training. This training would be in addition to the club’s official training (club training was in the afternoon).

Since the two didn’t have a car they would have to hitch a ride with another player. The training ground was quite far from the hotel/dorm (50 minutes by car), so Son Woong-jeong said that he would just wait outside the training grounds for six hours – regardless of the weather conditions – while Son Heung-min trained. He would observe Son Heung-min training and what the coaching staff was doing and then he would prepare supplemental exercises for Son Heung-min for the next day.

He also shared what happened and how he felt on the day Son Heung-min scored his first professional goal against Cologne. Son Woong-jeong said that he gave Son Heung-min a hug and told him he suffered a lot (“고생했다”), and then took Son Heung-min’s laptop computer with him when he went back to where he was staying. The reason? He was worried that Son would log on and see the positive reactions to him scoring and get carried away. He admits that while it wasn’t something he should think, he thought and hoped that for a few days Son Heung-min would just forget about the game and scoring as if it never happened. He also says that to this day, he’s never searched on the internet for comments and reactions to Son Heung-min’s performances.

Transfer to Tottenham

Son Woong-jeong also talked about Son Heung-min’s transfer from Leverkusen to Tottenham. He said that the transfer almost didn’t happen. After the first two attempts at negotiations there had been no headway in discussions. Leverkusen had no interest in selling. So, as Son Woong-jeong tells it, Daniel Levy came to Leverkusen to try a third and final time. When Levy arrived in Leverkusen he told Son Woong-jeong that if it didn’t happen in this negotiation, then it likely would never happen. Negotiations began, but only lasted about 10 minutes. Levy came out and said the move was off. Son Woong-jeong was furious because the Leverkusen manager, Roger Schmidt, was frequently subbing Son Heung-min off during matches. He wanted to know why the club was refusing to negotiate a move when, in his eyes, the coach clearly did not fancy Son. 

Son Woong-jeong recalls Son’s move to Tottenham

As Son Woong-jeong tells it, he spotted the Leverkusen directors four floors up, and he ran up the stairs three at a time in order to catch them. After confronting the directors, they agreed to negotiate a move for Son Heung-min. Whether this next part is true or not remains a mystery, but Son Eung-jeong said that he heard later that the directors thought that Son Woong-jeong was North Korean and they later had nightmares about him running towards them and confronting them.

Facial fracture and the World Cup

He also spoke of when Son Heung-min had bones broken in his face just prior to the World Cup. He said that both of them immediately thought about whether Son Heung-min could go to the World Cup. Son Woong-jeong said that Son Heung-min told him that he was definitely going to the World Cup and asked his father to find some way to be sufficiently healthy to make it. Son Woong-jeong said that the biggest obstacle to Son Heung-min’s surgery was the swelling. In order to be able to perform the surgery, the swelling had to be reduced, so Son Heung-min – except when he was asleep – had ice on his face almost constantly to reduce it to be able to have the surgery done quickly. 

“흥민이 월클 아니다”

“Son Heung-min is not world class.” (“말씀 중에 죄송합니다. 절대 월드클래스 아닙니다.”) When Son Woong-jeong said this in an interview a several years back in 2018 it caused a little discussion then, but it has been brought up quite a bit recently due to Son having won the Golden Boot last season. Here he was ‘given’ the chance to address the quote, but he once again doubled down on his remark insisting that it is true (he however did say that he has no grounds to argue against someone else who says Son Heung-min is world class).

He explained that the reason he refuses to agree with or say that Son Heung-min is world class is because he feels that if he says that it is like saying that Son Heung-min is at the peak. And to him, if you’re at your peak that means that the only direction to go is down. He wants Son Heung-min to always believe or work towards the idea that he can improve by 10% more. This way, even if Son Heung-min is in decline in terms of his performances, it is a gradual and “beautiful” decline.

Humility and the end of Son’s career

Son Woong-jeong also talked about, that while he has kept medals and awards Son Heung-min has received from his time playing in Germany and England, all other trophies and awards were discarded. The reason? He believes that if Son Heung-min has all these things from his past to show how good he was, he won’t be focused on the future. Additionally, the items he has kept for Son Heung-min are packed away in boxes in a small room (with a closed door).

Son Woong-jeong ended his appearance by telling what he hopes happens to Son Heung-min at the end of his playing career. He hopes that when Son’s contract with Spurs ends (June 2025) that Son Heung-min has the ability to go and play for the team that he wants to play for or in the city he wants to live in, and that after all the hard work and suffering he’s put in over the years he can just play happily to end his career.

About Jae Chee 331 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.

2 Comments

    • I imagine so. The interview implied it was more things like youth medals and stuff. “Big” medals or things from Germany, England, and probably the national team are kept as he said he has thoughts to open a museum or some place where Son Heung-min’s fans can come and view the medals and stuff one day after he retires.

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