Son Heung Min, known to most in the world of Football as Sonny, is not only a national hero in South Korea, but he is also a staple of Tottenham football club in England. This truth is problematic if you’re of South Korean heritage and also live and die with Tottenham’s biggest rivals, Arsenal.
The bad blood between Arsenal and Tottenham has deep roots in the long and illustrious history of the English Premier League. The two North London-based clubs have been going at it for over a century now, when Arsenal moved and made North London their home. With the North London Derby approaching its next chapter this week, it felt like the perfect time to dive into a niche group of people that live in a confusing space.
This context is important because I absolutely love Arsenal. Most of the notifications coming up on my phone during the summer months are usually connected with transfer rumors for some obscure defender buried deep in Ligue 2 or phantom offers made for prominent strikers that amount to nothing. I remember once spending an hour watching highlights of a young striker named Yaya Sonogo and convincing myself that he had Henry-like traits. That hour was not well spent in hindsight. Arsenal finally went against the grain this summer and splashed the cash, but that was way off from the norm.
Son Heung Min is an enigma in my life like no other. I’m supposed to love him, but it’s complicated; I have to give him my full support, but I don’t want to. One of my friends scolded me recently and said “It’s always country over club.” I’m sure for many that could be a feasible option, but for fans like me that invest so much of their lives into following every ebb and flow of my favorite club, it’s nearly impossible for me to compartmentalize my allegiances. How can I claim to be a “Gooner” for life, if I find myself fraternizing with the enemy? I remember during the 2018 FIFA World Cup a bunch of my friends and I ordered some KNT kits before the tournament and literally every single one of my friends ordered a Sonny jersey except for me. I made the correct choice and decided to go with our captain Ki Sung Yueng instead.
As an Arsenal fan living in LA, there are many times when I would have to wake up at the crack of dawn to see Arsenal play on a weekend morning. I had to restrain myself from screaming, so as not to wake my sleeping wife during every riveting moment of Tottenham vs Arsenal in early December of last year. I relished every mistake Sonny made, laughed at all the missed chances that led to goalless attacks, and felt no guilt about it at all. During those 90 minutes I couldn’t find an ounce of affection for Sonny. Hating him felt good, it was the exact feeling that Zendaya’s character was looking for in “Euphoria.” Sonny’s pain was all my gain.
Then on the other side of the coin, we look back to the triumphant gold medal won by South Korea during the Asian Games back in the fall of 2018. Who could forget the incredible run and the stakes that were at hand. Sonny, spearheading the team to finally gain exemption from military service. It was an incredible run and I couldn’t help but love him for all that he did for our country and ultimately for himself. He took on all the pressure, carried himself as a true leader and Talisman and led Korea to the Gold. That’s some legendary stuff right there, you can imagine discussions may have already begun in Korea to take that legendary run and turn it into a movie or K-Drama of some sort. When he was wearing red it was easy to cheer for him, I was caught up in the moment and overwhelmed with passion for my country. But even in the bedlam of watching Korea win the gold medal I would have flashes in my mind of him wearing the white of Tottenham instead of the Korean red, and cheering for him felt so wrong.
I had the same weird feeling when he went viral on Twitter at the end of the Premier League season when he was playing with all the children of his teammates. Every day I would see another cropped video of him holding babies and walking around with that million-dollar smile like a politician. He was making his rounds as the “fun uncle”, playing with all the kids, making them laugh. That’s a wholesome moment that the internet could only celebrate and yet I was reminded of the shirt he was wearing. We have to look deeper though; there are deeper ramifications to that video. His kindness, his childlike approachability was giving these children a positive view of Tottenham that was just wicked in my eyes. Those kids are going to grow up with fun memories with him as a Tottenham player. That’s a problem.
With all that being said, I’m back to square one. What does a person like me do about Sonny? I’m sure all of this is overly dramatic, but it’s a real issue that many like me have to face. I know all the talking points that my compatriots will share with me. He’s a good man, teammate, great ambassador for the game; I’ve heard it all and I can’t seem to change. Ultimately, there is no answer to this situation. For a Korean-American Arsenal fan, the only thing we can hope for is a transfer, hope that he moves on and never dons that blinding white shirt ever again. But being realistic for a moment, that’s probably never going to happen. He is a major star for the club, is adored by the fans, produces at a high level, and is still young enough to be a part of their immediate future. As much as I want to hate on him, I have to acknowledge how great of a player he is and the fact that he is extremely valuable to his club.
In typical Arsenal fashion, I find myself sitting back, hopeful for a phantom transfer. Although Arsenal may have shifted on a dime recently and offered fans some hope, the chances of Sonny moving to another squad any time soon are close to none. Until that day comes, all I can do is love him when possible and hate him always. That’s probably the best answer I can find.