Stielike steps up to help out S. Korea’s Olympic soccer squad and Son Heung-min

March 14, 2016

Uli Stielike (Yonhap)

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL (Yonhap) — By excluding one of South Korea’s biggest football stars from his roster announced Monday, senior men’s national team head coach Uli Stielike showed that he wants to help the country’s football on a much deeper level.

For South Korea’s squad for the second round Asian qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Lebanon on March 24 and a friendly match in Thailand on March 27, there was a small surprise: Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min was missing.

It turns out Stielike’s intention was to help both the South Korea under-23 football team and the player at the Olympics.

“I think in your life, you have to look for win-win situation,” Stielike said. “Hopefully, this is the case for Son Heung-min and Korean football.”

Both the Olympic team, led by head coach Shin Tae-yong, and Son want each other. Stielike just wants to bridge them.

South Korea already confirmed their Olympic spot in January after finishing second at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship. But to ensure a better result in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the team plans to use more experienced players like Son.

The Olympic football tournament is open to players under the age of 23 at the start of the Olympic year, and teams can each field up to three players who are over that limit as “wild cards.”

Son is also determined to play at the Summer Games, but there is a hurdle: professional clubs are not mandated to release players over 23 for the Olympics. Son turns 24 on July 8, about a month before the Olympics kick off.

To solve this problem, Stielike stepped up as a helper. He agreed not to call up Son this time for the World Cup qualifiers so the Korea Football Association (KFA) could ask Tottenham to release Son for the Olympics later. Stielike wanted the Olympic team to use the player when he is most needed.

“We’ve asked Tottenham to make Son available for the Olympics as a wild card, and in exchange, we offered not to select him for matches in March,” the coach said.