Former Korean coach wants Son Heung-min, Lee Kang-in to make peace

By Hieu Luong   February 19, 2024 | 06:54 pm PT
Shin Tae-yong, former coach of South Korea national football team, has asked the squad's feuding stars Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in to squash their egos and make peace after a recent fistfight.
South Korea captain Son Heung-min (R) and Lee Kang-in. Photo by Asian Football Confederation

South Korea captain Son Heung-min (R) and Lee Kang-in in a match with the national football team. Photo by AFC

Now the Indonesian men's football head coach, Shin has implored the South Korean team's captain Son and Lee to let go of their differences.

The fight between Son, 31, and his eight-year-younger teammate Lee occurred during dinner on Feb. 5, one day before the squad's 0-2 defeat to Jordan in the semifinal of the Asian Cup. Son reprimanded a group of young players, including Lee, for making loud and disruptive noises while playing ping-pong in the national team's dining room.

After being provoked by Lee, Son grabbed his shirt. Lee is said to have thrown a punch toward Son. Although it didn't connect, Son's finger was dislocated when other teammates try to stop the fight.

The incident remained a secret until Feb. 14, when U.K. newspaper The Sun exposed the story and it became the biggest scandal in the history of the South Korea national football team. Lee issued an apology on his Instagram, while his agent said Lee didn't punch Son.

Son only said that it was "the toughest week of his life" and didn't mention the incident in the latest interview with his club Tottenham Hotspur.

"I think Son Heung-min, as a senior, should forgive Lee Kang-in," Shin said on South Korean channel KBS. "As a junior, Lee only needs to tell Son that he is still young so he didn't think it through and there will be no problem between them."

According to coach Shin, the current situation in the national team requires the two stars to make wise moves to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

Shin's opinion has weight in South Korean football, as he used to coach the team from 2017-2018, when the squad chalked up an impressive 2-0 victory against Germany in the World Cup group stage.

After the recent fight, tension increased and the Korean Football Association (KFA) had to sack coach Jurgen Klinsmann, despite his contract through July 2026. KFA paid Klinsmann and his coaching staff $7.5 million in compensation.

KFA president Chung Mong-gyu said he will talk to the new head coach about whether they should call up Son and Lee in March for the 2026 World Cup's second qualification round.

Klinsmann didn't take responsibility for his tactical mistakes and weak management which led to the Asian Cup failure. Instead, he tried to blame the loss on the conflict between Son and Lee.

Assistant coach Andreas Herzog said Chung had faith in the coaching team but was forced to fire them because of external pressure. He also affirmed that the conflict between Son and Lee surprised everyone and had adversely affected the team's mentality.

"In just a few minutes, what we worked hard to build over the previous months was destroyed," Herzog told Austrian newspaper Kronen on Feb. 16.

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