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Disciplined regimen key to Son Heung Min’s success

Tottenham star's brother details tough path to the top

The South Korean star leading Tottenham Hotspur's charge for a place in the Champions League final had a unique football upbringing. But that was only one component of his success, his brother has said.

Striker Son Heung Min, 26, has been instrumental in Spurs' run to the semi-finals of Europe's top club competition, scoring thrice over two legs against Manchester City to reach the last four.

But he was suspended for the first leg of the semi-final, a 1-0 home defeat by Ajax Amsterdam, and will be crucial to their efforts in Holland tomorrow morning (Singapore time), despite picking up a red card in the English Premier League on Saturday.

Around 8,500 kilometres away, his elder brother and fellow striker Son Heung Yun - three years his senior - will be watching closely.

For years, the two boys were trained by their father, Son Woong Jung, a former professional footballer who aimed to take his sons to the top with a strict and disciplined regimen.

"Everything we did revolved around football," Heung Yun told AFP.

"Our father told us we had to go to bed early to play football and that we had to eat well to play football.

"He always said that life was short and we should do things we liked and when we did, we should pursue it to the point of going a little bit crazy about it."

Renowned for concentrating on ball skills and not allowing them to shoot or join a team - where they might be distracted by trying too hard to win games - their father laid a foundation for the rising Son.

The brothers would exchange glances as they endured the tough daily sessions.

Heung Yun remembers training one New Year's Day on a snow-covered lot in bitter cold as a 13-year-old. Before he knew it, he covered his ears with his hands, only for his father - who was showing his sons how to dribble - to turn back and immediately berate him, as he often did when he felt they were not trying their best.

"We were raised very tough," said Heung Yun, who, as a player, reached the fifth tier of German club competition but now coaches at the SON Football Academy run by his father.

"We were hit by our father a lot when training, which is unimaginable these days. Some of our neighbours even doubted he was our real father."

Both boys looked up to their father - who spent hours picking up the tiniest pebbles on a dirt lot before his sons came for practice - and took his words as "law".

But the older brother often clashed with their father, taking after his hot temper, while Heung Min accepted everything that was thrown at him.

"He was bright and friendly and known as a happy kid. Even when he was reprimanded by our father, Heung Min was able to shake it off and smile," Heung Yun said.


Son's transformation from Korean hopeful to European star was catalysed by the youth academy at Hamburg SV, which he joined aged 16, leaving school to do so in a highly unusual decision backed by his father.

But it started inauspiciously. Soon after Heung Min arrived in Germany, he called his family to say he was missing them and even kimchi, the fermented cabbage dish that is a mainstay of the Korean table.

"He never really liked kimchi but he was crying and said he wanted to eat kimchi and missed our family," Heung Yun said, noting his brother also had to face language barriers and racism.

He told Heung Min he had to overcome the difficulties.

The fact that he did could be attributed to his "very competitive" nature.

"When we were young, we played video games a lot and Heung Min is quite good and we both hated losing. So we would practice video games on our own," Heung Yun said.

But ultimately, he added: "Both Heung Min and I shared the goal of joining the national team and, in that sense, I did not succeed while Heung Min did."

The striker was seen in floods of tears after the Taeguk Warriors lost to Mexico at last year's World Cup, paving the way for their first-round elimination.

Heung Min had been "crying from anger", his brother said.

"You need to have that much desire to win." - AFP