Saturday 16 December 2017

Sonny disposition shows how difficult it is to be a lover and a fighter

Heung-Min Son is known fondly, if predictably, at Spurs as ‘Sonny’ Pic: PA
Heung-Min Son is known fondly, if predictably, at Spurs as ‘Sonny’ Pic: PA

Tommy Conlon

For a moment it sounded as if Tommy Martin wasn't so much presenting a football show, as a reality TV dating game.

The affable TV3 anchor was doing a fine job of it, too - until he was rudely interrupted by Graeme 'Souey' Souness. "And I think we can see him here," said Martin as he introduced the relevant montage, "hugging and cuddling and . . ." He was only warming to his theme when Souness arrived with the studs up.

The subject in question was one Heung-min Son, Tottenham's Korean player, who at that point was lovingly embracing his former Bayer Leverkusen colleagues in the tunnel. It was the mid-October Champions League clash between the sides. The teams were queued up, ready to walk onto the pitch. Son is known fondly, if predictably, at Spurs as 'Sonny'. He was making his way down the line of opposing players, clasping their hands and tenderly cupping their faces before collapsing into full-on man hugs. It was a lovely thing.

But Souey was not impressed with Sonny. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I don't wanna see that," interjected the Scottish hardman of yore. "I'd be saying to him, 'Hug him after the game'. But this is the modern way. As a dinosaur, I'd be saying, 'Listen, I don't want you hugging people before the game. Go out and kick 'em, don't be hugging them and kissing them on either cheek'."

It was as if he'd thrown a bucket of ice-cold water over Sonny - not to mention Tommy, sitting there beside him. For those of an older vintage, it prompted memories of the days when Souness bestrode the midfields of England and Europe with the sort of stylised brutality that would only be matched by the chilling Francis Begbie character in Trainspotting.

Kevin Kilbane, coming a generation later, was an altogether kinder, gentler sort of footballer. But he too was unmoved by Son's public display of affection.

"What's his team-mates thinking there?" he demanded of Martin, who by now presumably had ruled out any thoughts of scented candles or scattered rose petals for a bit of interior decoration around the studio. "What's Dele Alli thinking? He's one of your team-mates, you're going out into a big, big game tonight, you need a win - what are you thinking?"

Heung-min Son, 24, is a superstar in South Korea. He has the expansive portfolio of corporate endorsements to prove it. But newspaper profiles suggest he is a humble, likeable fellow. He had spent two successful years at Leverkusen, and on the eve of his return he said it would be "a special game" for him, adding: "I'm very happy to see my friends again." Far too happy, as it turned out, for the pair of pundits in the studio. Naturally, we were hoping that the Korean would prove them wrong on the field of play, that Sonny would prove it possible to be both a lover and a fighter.

He'd come into the match in rip-roaring form. He'd won the Premier League's player of the month award for September - the first Asian player ever to do so. He was banging in the goals.

Sadly, it all went pear-shaped in Germany that night. He barely got a kick - apart of course from the shoeing that Souness had dished out back in Dublin. And we regret to report that since that love-in in Leverkusen, it has all been downhill for this charming gentleman. Spurs' form has collapsed, and so has his.

He was subbed after 60 minutes in the very next match, against Bournemouth. Last Wednesday night, in the return game at home to the Germans, he was taken off after 73 minutes having been more or less invisible. Now they face a buoyant Arsenal side in the London derby this afternoon. We doubt there'll be too many hugs and kisses in the tunnel at the Emirates. But can it have been an excess of man-love that has suddenly derailed Son's form? Is it too much of a coincidence that after showing all that tender affection for his old team-mates, his form went south? Did he lose the will to battle manfully, to compete with the requisite testosterone levels, to break his opponent in half, à la Souey?

It should, of course, be pointed out that for all his alpha male dominance, Souness also showed some alarming metrosexual tendencies back in the '70s and '80s, when men were men. He liked to top up the old tan; he even succumbed to the allure of the bubble-perm hairstyle; and his moustache was an immaculately sculpted work of art. He was an exceptionally well-groomed young man. Indeed, it was an open secret at the time that Souness was in the throes of an epic bromance during those notorious years of midfield supremacy. Said bromance, however, was with none other than himself.

And we noted a quite delicious anecdote in Sam Allardyce's recent autobiography that concerned the Liverpool legend. Allardyce was being courted by Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd for the manager's job in 2006. Souness had been sacked, thus creating the vacancy. Shepherd arranged to meet Allardyce at the Dorchester in London. "But (he) cancelled," recalled Big Sam, "when he saw Souey having his hair cut at the hotel barbers."

Sonny might like to hug his opponents rather than kick them. We would doubt, however, that he gets his barnet coiffed, of all places, at the Dorchester Hotel.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
BT Sport 1, 12.0

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