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Captain Son Heung-min comes to Klinsmann's defense amid remote work criticism

By Yonhap

Published : Sept. 8, 2023 - 09:22

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Son Heung-min of South Korea reacts to a play against Wales during the teams' friendly football match at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday. (Yonhap) Son Heung-min of South Korea reacts to a play against Wales during the teams' friendly football match at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday. (Yonhap)

With his beleaguered national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing criticism over his remote work, South Korea captain Son Heung-min believes there's more to Klinsmann's work habits than meets the eye.

Son came to the German-born coach's defense after South Korea and Wales ended in a goalless draw in Cardiff on Thursday (local time). The result extended Klinsmann's winless streak as South Korea's bench boss to five matches, with three draws and two losses.

Klinsmann arrived in the Welsh capital this week under fire for having spent more time in his US home than in South Korea so far in his six-month tenure. After he was appointed in late February, Klinsmann pledged that he would live in South Korea to learn about the new country and its culture. Instead, Klinsmann has relied on his assistants to do the legwork of checking on domestic league players, and he himself has made trips to Europe to meet with South Korean internationals there, including Son.

The latest draw will only give Klinsmann's detractors more ammunition, but Son, the lone bright spot for South Korea's otherwise lethargic offense against Wales, said he wasn't paying much mind to outside noise.

"As a player, I should be thinking about how to make this team better. We have a lot to learn from this match, and there are areas where we have to get better," Son said. "I understand where fans come from, as someone who's been on the national team for a long time. I am not saying the coach is always right, but I also don't think fans are always right, either."

As for Klinsmann's extracurricular activities -- he has appeared on ESPN to comment on European football and attended the UEFA Champions League draw earlier this month in Monaco -- Son said, "I am sure he is looking hard into ways to apply elements of contemporary football to our national team."

With five matches in the books under Klinsmann's regime, Son said the national team remains a work in progress.

"As you can see, we are not yet perfect. Fans want us to be perfect, and we'd love to be that way. And we hold ourselves accountable for not being at that level yet," Son said. "But I believe we will definitely improve. I think it's important for us to keep getting better and better."

With South Korea, Klinsmann has not been able to change the narrative surrounding his perceived lack of tactical acumen. In all of his five matches so far, South Korea didn't play with much structure, instead relying on individual skills by the likes of Son to generate opportunities.

Son again defended his coach, saying Klinsmann is still in the experimenting stage.

"Many different players have been getting opportunities. In some ways, the coach is trying to identify new players, instead of trying to put up results right away," Son said. "I am sure he knows what he's doing."

Son also called on his teammates to help the coach and compete with a proper mindset.

"I want them to realize that an opportunity to play for the country doesn't come every day and shouldn't be taken for granted," Son said. "Today's match will help us a great deal down the road, and I hope the players don't forget this feeling."

Son and his teammates will try to give Klinsmann his first win Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Newcastle, England. Klinsmann already has the dubious distinction of having the longest winless start to a South Korea tenure by a foreign-born coach.

Asked about the pressure to end that drought, Son said: "Football players always live under that kind of pressure. If you don't like it or can't handle it, then you shouldn't be on the national team. I am sure the boys will see it as good pressure.

"Obviously, Saudi Arabia are a strong team," Son added, noting that the Green Falcons defeated eventual champions Argentina at last year's FIFA World Cup. "We want to bring joy to our fans with a win, and hopefully, it will help remove doubts about the national team." (Yonhap)