Will Son Heung-min be allowed to play in Asian Games?

July 31, 2014

Precious mandatory military service exemption is on the line, but his German club is not obligated to give him permission under FIFA rules 

Son Heung-min leaves the field after giving away his uniform jersey to an opponent. (Yonhap)

Son Heung-min leaves the field after giving away his uniform jersey to an opponent. (Yonhap)

(Yonhap) — The Asian Games will be held on home soil, in the western city of Incheon, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4, and South Korea will be trying to win its first Asiad gold in men’s football since 1986, when the continental competition was held in Seoul.

Head coach Lee Kwang-jong will have to finalize his roster by Aug. 15. For the Asian Games, only players under the age of 23 are allowed, apart from three “wild card” spots for players over that age limit.

Son, who turned 22 earlier in July, is eligible for the Games and Lee doesn’t have to use one of his wild cards for the Bayer Leverkusen winger.

Son was one of the few bright spots for South Korea at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil last month, scoring a goal and doing yeoman’s work on an otherwise lethargic offense, as the country bowed out with two losses and a draw.

Lee made clear on Tuesday Son is “an essential player for our team.”

Calling up the dynamic player for the Asiad won’t be so simple, though. The Asian Games matches aren’t on the official FIFA match calendar, and clubs aren’t under obligation to release their players for the occasion. For instance, before the 2010 Asian Games, Scottish club Celtic refused to release their South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, who was 21 years old at the time.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Bundesliga season in Germany will be in full swing by the Asian Games, and it appears unlikely the club will let Son play here, considering his place in the team’s offensive schemes.

Son joined Leverkusen from Hamburger SV before last season and scored 10 goals in league play, the second most in the club.

“Since the FIFA rules (on players’ release) don’t apply to the Asian Games, it’s really up to the player himself whether or not he wants to play,” Lee said.

Incidentally, Son has traveled to Seoul with the rest of Bayer Leverkusen to face FC Seoul of the K League Classic in an exhibition match Wednesday. At a press conference on Tuesday, Son said it was premature to talk about the possibility of his taking part in the Asian Games.

“The team hasn’t given me any approval and the South Korean roster hasn’t been released yet,” he said. “So I think it’s too early to talk about it. If the team gives me the green light, then I will give my 100 percent on the pitch, and the goal is obviously to win the gold medal at home.”

An official with the German club also said nothing has been decided as far as Son’s status.

For other places on the Asiad roster, coach Lee said he will use at least one of the wild cards on an offensive player. The other two may go to a goalkeeper, a defender or a defensive midfielder.

“Wild card players must certainly be a better player than those under 23,” Lee said. “They must also take on leadership roles.”