Son Heung-min: ‘I miss White Hart Lane but the new stadium is amazing’

Son Heung-min has never known anything like it. Not since his arrival at Tottenham in August 2015 have the team endured a worse run of Premier League form during a single season. And, by the forward’s reckoning, he has never gone three weeks without a match inside a domestic campaign.

Seismic change is also afoot. After all the delays, Spurs are primed to enter their 62,062-capacity new stadium on Wednesday for the Premier League fixture with Crystal Palace. Son and his teammates trained there for the first time on Thursday and, it is fair to say, they are champing at the bit to perform in front of a full house. The atmosphere against Palace promises to be special.

For Son, it is a time to reset. The defeat at Southampton on 9 March seems a long time ago and, since then, Son has been on a four‑day training break to Barcelona with his teammates, had a rare weekend off – because of Spurs being out of the FA Cup – and played the 90 minutes for South Korea in home wins over Bolivia and Colombia. He was up against his clubmate Davinson Sánchez in the second, when he scored. He got back to London on Wednesday after a 12-hour flight.

The Southampton loss continues to burn, particularly as it was a third in four league games, to follow those at Burnley and Chelsea. The other result in the sequence was the draw against Arsenal at Wembley – the club’s temporary home since the start of last season – which could so easily have been a defeat.

The downturn is untimely, to say the least. Spurs have felt their grip on a top-four finish loosen and, with stadium debts to repay, the importance of Champions League qualification and revenues has never been greater. The pressure is on for Sunday’s visit to Liverpool yet Son has a good feeling.

“I’ve never had three weeks with no [club] games in my career – it’s strange, very weird in a season – although the time has been very important for us,” Son says. “We were able to be mentally free. I’ve been at Tottenham for nearly four years and the last games we’ve had – of course it was a surprise because we never had this situation.

“Now we have to keep together and, after these three weeks, I hope we can be fresh and positive and energetic on the pitch. We want to be in the top four and we want to play Champions League with this amazing stadium. I’m confident with my team. We can do it. We just need to believe in ourselves.”

Son admits he felt a pang of nostalgia when he trained at the new ground, which stands on the site of Spurs’ home since 1899. It might be added that some of his teammates believe that, despite the upsizing, it has retained the feel of White Hart Lane. But Son’s theme of fresh beginnings applies equally to the stadium. “I feel a bit different because I still remember White Hart Lane – when you come in, you’re still thinking about it,” Son says. “When I was young, I watched White Hart Lane. It’s in my head. They’ve changed the building and so for me [he exhales] … crazy things. The Tottenham of White Hart Lane was a special thing but now we have to make history with the new stadium.

“Of course, I miss White Hart Lane but the new stadium is amazing – the pitch, the view, the stands; it’s just unbelievable. Finally we are coming back home and it’s great to be here again with the fans. They were tired, as well, with Wembley. Of course, Wembley is a very nice stadium but it’s not actually our home. I think the fans are very happy, like us. The most important thing now is our performances in the new stadium.”

After Palace, Spurs have the two legs of their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City – either side of a home league fixture with Huddersfield – and Son would rather have drawn opposition from mainland Europe. “You don’t want to play against an English team,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like a European game.”

For three months from mid-November, Son’s form for Spurs was so hot that he came to be a part of the player-of-the-year conversation. “It’s very unfair if I get this award because there are [other] players playing very well this season,” he says, with typical humility.

Son is more comfortable talking about the impact Mauricio Pochettino has had on his career. The Spurs manager convinced him not to leave after a difficult first season and he has worked to improve his movement and awareness, among other things. “It’s a bit different between when you’re playing and when you see from outside the pitch,” Son says. “The gaffer sees every single action. If you move to that space; if I get the ball or other players get the ball and you make the space – these are the small details that have been very important. Without him, I probably wouldn’t be like this.”

Son describes Pochettino as the best manager in the world and, with Spurs’ stadium complete, he feels they have the infrastructure to rival that of any club. To Son’s mind, it is now over to the players. The responsibility belongs to them.

“We have the best training ground in the world, we have the best stadium in the world and everything is ready to compare to anything. The answer is now with the players, how they perform. It’s very important the players are serious and take the chance. I am looking to the future and winning something with this new stadium and with this unbelievable club.”


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