Son Heung-min is talking about his hopes and one recurring dream. His hope is to get another chance. His hope is for Tottenham to take it, to make the breakthrough. He thinks they deserve it. He thinks the collective ache is strong enough to get it done.
And so he discusses those hopes and the message is that they will move on. That they will go again, as the parlance has it, still wanting, still fighting.
But there is also the dream. The one that isn’t just about moving forward, because it has to take him backwards first.
Son Heung-min is talking about his hopes and one recurring dream – the Champions League
Back to the night in June, the walk across that blue stage, the look at that trophy, a medal that he gave to his mother. It was all there, a sequence of thoughts, day and night, asleep or awake, repeating itself for however long.
‘I couldn’t count how many times,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘For me the goal was to win the Champions League, not to play the Champions League final. After the game it was real pain. Every day. I went away to play for the national team in a couple of games straight away and that was fine, but afterwards, I started dreaming about it every day.
‘It was pain. I am not a guy who is happy to lose. Every day and night I would see it in my head. I remember them with the trophy, lifting it, celebrating. For me, I think of that bit with the trophy.
‘When they were celebrating, it was, wow, so painful. They were celebrating, we are standing there looking at the floor, and watching that — it is painful.’
Almost three months on from that defeat against Liverpool, Son has just about emerged on the other side. Not entirely because losing a Champions League final leaves a thick scar, but the worst of it has morphed into something more helpful in that way elite athletes mine fuel from their disappointments.
For Son, it took a holiday to get there. Mauricio Pochettino talks of Son holding a profile like David Beckham in South Korea, but it was in his homeland, and whatever claustrophobia that may or may not have induced, that he put himself back together.
Tottenham lost the Champions League final 2-0 to Liverpool in Madrid last May
Almost three months on from that defeat to Liverpool the Spurs forward has moved past it
‘It is not like people say — I love being home,’ he says. ‘I can do things there, go to shops, have coffee, anything. After the final I was so happy to be home. I saw my friends and family and did not see football. We were doing stuff that wasn’t football. We did a lot of driving, some shopping, went for coffee, played around on the computer — no football games — just trying to have fun to be better again. I love football. Without football I don’t have a life — that is how much I love it.
‘But in my holidays I had to get out of this situation. I had to and because I know how much pressure was coming when the season starts. After that I didn’t want to think about anything and it helped me. Now, I am fresh.’
Just as the player underwent a rebuild, Tottenham went through one of their own. Money was spent on new signings in the summer for the first time in almost a year and a half — and yet the feeling lingers that the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City has grown.
That is no slur on a club that has made a remarkable art of doing more with less, but there is a sense that this fascinating project has approached a decisive stage when the silverware either must arrive or the growth rate will level out and folk might ponder their next move.
For Son, it took a holiday to get over the defeat and focus on the new campaign ahead
Christian Eriksen is evidently already there, and it is no big reach to assume there will be more who see higher platforms elsewhere.
All of which makes it a big season for Tottenham, and they now go into one of those barometer fixtures at Arsenal on Sunday.
If the defeat against Newcastle was a head punch, this North London derby has the two-way capacity to serve as a smelling salt or chloroform.
Win at the Emirates, having already drawn at Manchester City, and Tottenham are making good speed; lose and the grumbles about big-game mentality, hollow uses of possession and other signs of the apocalypse will become a louder narrative.
For Son, a forward who has grown in tandem with the club, developing from fringe element to major force with all-competition scoring hauls of eight, 21, 18 and 20 goals across his four seasons, the waters are far clearer.
‘I think the people know how close we are,’ he says. ‘Everyone was always surprised when Tottenham were doing well.
‘Of course, it is not normal that we were so close all the time. The players, the staff are ready but you cannot promise it, you can’t. Football changes so quick and I am not a guy who wants to speak and then doesn’t do it. I want to play to win, and the players here are so hungry. To win everything is sometimes not possible but the players deserve it.
Mauricio Pochettino says Son holds a profile like David Beckham in South Korea
‘For me Spurs’ players really, really want something. I hope this season we can achieve more than last season. This is what we dream of. Manchester City and Liverpool, no question they were unbelievable last season but is it sure that Manchester City or Liverpool will win this league?
‘I am a realistic man, but to win the league of 20 teams, maybe not. Who thought about Leicester? In football you never know. Until the end of the season you never know what will happen.
‘Like last season as well, Liverpool was at the top, then City. It will happen again. I don’t want to expect anything, I just want to keep winning with my team, have more chances, and at the end of the season we can talk. It is almost 10 months — that is a long race.’
Son’s race is only just getting going. He was suspended for the win over Aston Villa and the draw at City following his red card for pushing Jefferson Lerma of Bournemouth in the penultimate Premier League game of last season.
‘I was a bad spectator the first two games,’ he says. ‘I am bad at it. I watched and it was so painful. Really bad, actually.
‘It made me feel very sorry as well because I know it was my own mistake why I was out, and that was what I was thinking when Aston Villa were 1-0 up. I was finding that very hard, moving in my seat up until 72 minutes when it became 1-1. I felt very bad about the red card. I will never say I will change the way I play but this was just so painful to watch.
‘I love being in this team and to miss it because it was my own fault was not nice at all. It took me two seconds on the pitch against Bournemouth to realise what I was going to miss and that I should learn something from this. I hope this never happens again.’
It’s a theme for Son. Learning from mistakes is a big deal to him and always has been — tales of his rigorous footballing education are well known. The standout anecdote told elsewhere tends to be the time his father, an ex-pro in South Korea and the most influential figure in Son’s career, made him do four hours of keepie-uppies as a 10-year-old after he squabbled with his brother.
His own brand of encouragement was notably gentler at a Spurs community day at the Frederick Knight Sports Ground in Tottenham, at which he did this interview.
He is known as being among the most engaging footballers at club events and spent more than an hour running through drills for kids and signing autographs. ‘You need to have fun,’ he said repeatedly to the children. Yet it’s a bit of an understatement to note that taking part isn’t his personal be-all and end-all.
Which takes him back to what happened against Liverpool. ‘I gave the medal to my mum because she deserved it,’ he says. ‘I was proud of the medal. But I want to win and the final can help us. It was painful. But we have to be stronger than it, learn from it, and make a successful season. It has made me more hungry.’
Throughout July and August, Tottenham Hotspur Foundation has been running free grassroots football coaching courses and tournaments for children aged five to 18 years old in Haringey. To learn more about what Tottenham is delivering on its doorstep, download the Spurs Official app or visit the Passionate About Tottenham web page.