South Korean football star Son Heung-min talks about his new “Built for the Journey” campaign for TUMI, leading his country’s World Cup squad and the legacy he hopes to leave on the pitch.
Son Heung-min knows he’s worked for this. He’s still working for it. Even with all of his talent, all of his accolades, success doesn’t come without showing up. Working hard. Repeat. Show up. Work. Repeat.
It’s a journey to forever improve, to be better tomorrow than you were today; even for the captain of South Korea’s national team. Even for the beloved forward of Tottenham Hotspur FC. In this league, at this level, you’re only as good as your next goal. So you show up. You work. You repeat.
It’s a journey he’s been on all his life. Fortunately, it’s one he’s built for. Which makes it a fitting theme for his new campaign with TUMI, the luxury travel and lifestyle brand that named the South Korean phenom their newest ambassador this past February.
“There is no big secret. There is only work. Repetition. Over and over. And over,” says Son in the new spot that launches today, featuring the TUMI 19 Degree Aluminum hardside cases that protect his most personal belongings as he makes that journey of work and repetition over, and over, and over again.
Directed by filmmaker Jessy Moussallem, it’s the first of four docu-films to drop, with the others to follow this autumn, starring Son’s fellow TUMI ambassadors: singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams, actor and singer Anthony Ramos and McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris, each touting their favourite pieces from the brand’s 19 Degree Aluminum, Tegra-Lite, and McLaren collections.
It’s also a testament to the level that Son has reached, all by the age of 30. The greatest Asian footballer of all time? Some say so. And there’s certainly a case to be made, from the seven (and five consecutive) “Best Footballer in Asia” awards to this past May, when he became the first-ever Asian player to raise the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
“When I saw [the Golden Boot] for the first time I was a little bit emotional because when I was a kid I always dreamed about this award. So when I had it in my hands, I couldn’t believe it. I’m really grateful for my teammates, the sponsors and coaches, and everyone who was helping me. Without them, this award would not be possible,” he says.
In June, he was presented with the Cheongnyong Medal, the highest athletic award a South Korean citizen can receive. “It is an incredible honour,” says Son. “I feel a lot of responsibility each time I play for my country, but I also feel so much love and support from the Korean people. I will keep working hard to make them proud.”
This work ethic has powered his journey from the very beginning. Son credits his father — a former football player himself — as his biggest inspiration. “I used to follow him to the pitch and watch him coach when I was a little kid. He has done everything for me and without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says. Second? Park Ji-sung, a fellow Korean legend of the game. “He works very hard, even though he is already naturally very talented. My dreams of getting where I am today started when watching him play in the Premier League. They are the driving force that makes me work so hard when playing football.”
Son isn’t shy about his love for his home country. He’s both “happy and proud” to see the Hallyu, or Korean wave that has swept music (he’s a big fan of BTS), film, television and even food, and is honoured to do his part for the athletic side of things, as well.
“Koreans are very passionate, creative and smart, and I feel lucky to share some of these qualities. I feel a lot of responsibility to my country and my Korean fans. I want to keep my level as high as possible for as long as I can, to pay them back for their support. This is very important for me,” says Son.
One way of paying back the fans happens at the Son Football Academy, which he opened with his father and brother in his hometown of Chuncheon. With it, he hopes to build a path for the future of Korean football, which, unsurprisingly, has become more popular than ever.
“I think that we need to pay a lot of attention to youth football education in order to produce good players, not just the public’s interest in and popularity of football. We need an optimized environment and systematic education for young people who want to learn football,” says Son. “It means a lot that I can help give other kids the opportunity I had growing up, to learn from my father about how to develop as a player and acquire the skills they need to really be successful. I wish I could spend more time with the students, but I’m always thinking of them and supporting their dreams.”
And you don’t need to remind Son there’s a World Cup on the way — nor do you need to remind him that South Korea, which has qualified for every Cup bracket since Mexico in 1986, is still chasing an appearance in the final match.
“We still have a long way to go, but I’m very confident about this year’s squad. We work well together and play as a team. As captain, my job is to help my teammates. Winning is the most important thing and that is what we will focus on,” he says. “The most important thing for me is to keep improving and working toward better results. If the fruits of that effort are good results, I will be supremely happy.”
So when it’s all said and done, how does Son Heung-min want to be remembered?
“I hope I can be remembered as a great footballer who loved the game and always gave his best,” says Son.
Show up. Work. Repeat. The journey continues.