Song’s feeling right at Home in Singapore
Always looking assured on the ball and ready to release a defence-splitting pass, there is not many who can argue that Song is not one of the best midfielders in the country now.
Now into his sixth year of residing in Singapore, Song has fully assimilated into the local culture.
But it was not all smooth-sailing for the Incheon native, who first came to Singapore at the end of 2011 as an 18-year-old.
But it was not all smooth-sailing for the Incheon native, who first came to Singapore at the end of 2011 as an 18-year-old
Then, he was attending high school at Yeouido High School, which was known for its affiliations with K.League giants Suwon Bluewings, when he managed to catch the eye of then-Home coach Lee Lim-Saeng.
“Coach Lee knew my head coach in high school because they had worked together at Suwon before and were former national teammates,” Song reminisced to FourFourTwo. “He was impressed by how I played and told my head coach that he wanted me to go to Singapore and play there.
“When I heard of that, I was a bit uncertain. I didn’t know how is it like in Singapore and how’s the football there, so I just said I needed some time to think about it.
“After about two months, I said ‘okay, I want to try there’ since it’s very difficult to join a professional football league in Korea after high school.”
The early struggles
Song’s initial fears were confirmed though as he found it hard to acclimatise in his first foray out of Korea. Getting injured in pre-season only compounded matters.
“It was really difficult for me in my first year in Singapore. I was just a young person then and everything was so new here so I got homesick,” he revealed.
It was really difficult for me in my first year in Singapore. I was just a young person then
“I found it hard to even live here, to play football and struggled in terms of communication with the senior players. It also didn’t help that I injured my ankle in a friendly match and had to miss four months of the season.”
One of the first steps Song took was to improve his command of English as he resumed online lessons which he started taking back in Korea.
“I studied how to speak and read on my own; it’s very simple, just go online and buy,” he shared. “At first, I didn’t have much conversations with my teammates. I only listened to the Korean spoken by coach Lee and (then-assistant coach) Baek (Jong Seok), or just played football.
“Now I have no problem communicating with them, although I’m not sure whether they understand what I say at times! On the field, sometimes it’s just instinct. I just shout simple stuff, like ‘man on!’, ‘you have time’, so it’s no big problem.”
Song eventually made his official debut for the Protectors in July 2012 and played a total of 46 minutes as his side fell to a 3-0 defeat to Warriors FC in the uniformed derby.
His fortune took a swing for the better from thereon, as he gradually adapted to life in the Lion City.
“There were coaches Lee and Baek, especially coach Baek who was living in the same apartment as me,” shared Song. “If I needed any help, I could always approach them.
“Slowly I just was able to handle the situation of living and playing in Singapore. When I was younger, I wasn’t that mentally strong, but the challenges here meant I had to grow up fast to adapt.”
Change of position
Song’s potential began to manifest as he made regular first-team appearances in the S.League, despite being registered as a Prime League player
Song’s willingness to work hard and learn helped him along the way, especially since he was converted from a forward to a defensive midfielder.
“I remember one day in training, coach Lee just called me to try playing in defensive midfield,” he recalled. “I have never played there before, but after one or two matches I got used to playing in that position.
“It feels good that I can play in more than one position because it can only be good for my career.”
The arrival of classy compatriot Lee Kwan-Woo in 2013 also aided his footballing education as he began to break into the first team that year.
“Kwan-Woo was a really special player who played for many seasons in the K-League,” he commented.
“You can see the influence he has on the team and I learned a lot from him. It was easy to play with him; I just needed to protect the midfield and let him focus on the attacking.
“It’s a bit sad that he only stayed here for two seasons and I didn’t get to learn a bit more from him to become an even better player.”
Song’s potential began to manifest as he made regular first-team appearances in the S.League, despite being registered as a Prime League player.
A highlight of the 2013 season was scoring a last-gasp extra-time winner against Albirex Niigata (S) in the Singapore Cup preliminary round via a crisp volley that sent the Protectors en route to lifting the trophy.
Establishing himself in the S.League
Song is now truly the heartbeat of the Home engine room.
Song grew from strength to strength as he was officially promoted to the S.League squad in 2015 under Philippe Aw, who took over the coaching reins from Lee that season. His output gradually increased, with six goals and five assists in the 2016 season.
Current Protectors coach Aidil Sharin decided to hand him a more attacking role in 2017 which proved to be an inspired move — the current no. 8 has already contributed five goals and four assists with just over one-third of the season gone.
“I’m enjoying playing in attacking midfield because I used to be a striker,” shared Song. “I guess coach Aidil wants me to take on more responsibilities; that’s why he gave me the no. 8 jersey (instead of last season’s no. 3) and I’m loving it.
“Now I can play both defensive and attacking, I can control the game more and know what type of skill to use in what kind of situation. It’s very helpful for me.”
Song is now truly the heartbeat of the Home engine room. He had a standout individual display coming in a thrilling 3-2 victory against Vietnam’s Than Quang Ninh in the AFC Cup group stages, where he scored his first-ever brace.
With the ball falling to his feet at the edge of the box after a half-cleared cross in the 84th minute, he needed just one touch to steady himself before firing home a stunning left-footed volley into the top right corner to win the game for the Protectors.
The midfielder showed this was no fluke just weeks later, as he rifled in a similarly gorgeous effort against Philppines' Global-Cebu to help Home progress to the AFC Cup ASEAN zonal final.
Song has even been entrusted with the armband on a couple of occasions, wearing it for the first time in a 2-0 away win against Hougang United in early April.
“When coach Aidil told me I’ll be the captain before the game, it gave me a lot of motivation and there was no pressure at all,” he quipped. “Because even if I’m not wearing the captain’s armband, I still have to go out there to play the match and perform well for the team.
“It’s such a honour for me to captain this big club, but the most important thing is that we won on the night. Before the match, it was all serious; but after it ended, some teammates were disturbing me about it!”
(Next: Song feeling at home and wanting to play for Singapore)