South Korean men's football captain Son Heung-min watched with joy as a rising star wearing Son's signature number carried the country to the Asian Games gold medal earlier this month.
Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart led the Asiad tournament with eight goals in seven matches and scored one in the gold medal match to lift South Korea's under-24 team past Japan to the top of the podium. Jeong did so wearing No. 7, typically reserved for Son on the senior squad.
Jeong did his best Sonny impression throughout the competition, playing all over the field to demonstrate his offensive versatility and also his clinical finishing in the danger zone.
Speaking on the eve of South Korea's friendly against Tunisia, Son said Thursday he'd like to see continued progress from the 24-year-old Jeong.
"He did a tremendous job helping the team, and I'd like to congratulate him," Son said at a press conference at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. "But this is not the end of his career. We don't play football just to compete at the Asian Games. I hope he keeps thinking about ways that can help him get better and better.
"After a tournament like that, players tend to get carried away and feel too excited," Son continued. "But Woo-yeong isn't like that. He is a calm person, and I am sure this was a tournament that will help him grow. I hope he can be an even better player for the senior team."
Son also said South Korea should try to create some positive momentum in their upcoming men's football friendlies -- with Vietnam up next on Tuesday -- as they get ready for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in November and then the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in January.
"The most important event for us is the Asian Cup in January. And in these two matches, we must try to extend our winning streak," said Son, whose team picked up their first win under Klinsmann in September against Saudi Arabia. "This is our opportunity to build positive momentum and go into the Asian Cup feeling good about ourselves. And no one else can create that kind of vibe. We have to earn it through good results."
Son arrived in South Korea feeling quite good about the state of his own game. He is leading Tottenham Hotspur with six goals this season, only two behind the Premier League leader in that department, Erling Haaland of Manchester City. Spurs are also sitting pretty atop the league tables with an undefeated record of six wins and two draws.
Son, the 2021-22 Golden Boot winner held to only 10 goals in the 2022-23 season, said he has "absolutely zero personal ambitions" this season.
"I only think about how I can help the team," Son said. "When I do things that are necessary for the team, then I can gain a few things for myself. And I also want to make up for last season and show fans what I didn't get to show them last year. I try to entertain football fans in every moment."
Son is also a little banged up, with a groin injury holding him out of training for both the club and the national team in recent days. Son said he will take part in Thursday's session.
"I think people may be worried about my health, because there has been more talk about my physical condition than about the matches," Son said. "I am feeling much better now than I did when I first arrived here. So I'll participate in training and see how I feel."
Source: Yonhap News Agency