Son Heung-min is NOT the only footballer to do a stint in the army…

Son Heung-min is NOT the only footballer to do a stint in the army… Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Vialli played in the World Military Cup, Bruce Grobbelaar KILLED A MAN on the front line, Lev Yashin made weapons in the Soviet war, and there’s more

  • Tottenham star Son Heung-min has now started his shortened military service
  • South Korean men have to do two years but Son must complete three weeks
  • He is not the first player to swap the football pitch for the army barracks though
  • Sportsmail looks at some of the others to serve their country during their career 

Lst month Tottenham star Son Heung-min reported to a marines boot camp to begin three weeks of military service in his home country of South Korea.

He has temporarily swapped his football kit for a combat uniform and will be exposed to tear gas, 18-mile marches and live-fire drills during his time there.

All able-bodied men from his native South Korea are required to serve the military for two years but Son managed to gain exemption after helping his country win the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games. 

Earlier this week, Spurs star Son Heung-min (centre) started boot camp in South Korea

Son had previous been exempted from two-year military service by winning the Asian Games 

Instead, with no football taking place due to the coronavirus crisis, Son is completing a shortened version of a boot camp that is required for all new regular enlistees.  

But the Spurs ace isn’t the first footballer to serve his country during the peak of his career. These other stars have swapped the pitch for the army barracks or helped their country’s military in some capacity…

Teemu Tainio

Son is not even the first Spurs player to complete a period of military service. Former midfielder Tainio also had to serve his country but during the very early stages of his career.

In Finland, all fit adult males are conscripted for a period of military or civil service. Tainio was just 16 when he was called to do his bit and the timing even scuppered a move to Manchester United. After impressing in a trial at Old Trafford, Tainio was set to return before the call came. 

‘I played a few games, scored a few goals because I was a striker back then and they wanted me to come back, but I said: “I have to do my army service”,’ Tainio has since  explained.

When he completed his stint, Tainio signed for French club Auxerre. He went on to have spells in England with Sunderland, Birmingham and Tottenham, and also played for Ajax and New York Red Bulls.

Finland’s Teemu Tainio had to serve his country but during the very early stages of his career

When he completed his stint, Tainio played for Sunderland, Birmingham and Tottenham

Eric Cantona

The Manchester United legend had his blossoming career quickly halted when, a year after making his professional debut, he was called up to the French army.

He made his debut for Auxerre in 1983 but 12 months later he had to go and serve his country. Until being phased out in 2001, a period of military service was mandatory in France. But being called up did not stop Cantona from playing as he regularly featured for the army team.

Two years after completing his service in 1995, Cantona won his first international cap for France. His talent won him a move to England and Cantona enjoyed successful spells at Leeds and Manchester United. 

He retired in 1997 after winning the Premier League title four times in five seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson. 

After making his debut for Auxerre in 1983, Eric Cantona did national service 12 months later

After completing his duties, Cantona went on to have a successful spell at Manchester United

Pavel Nedved

The 2003 Ballon d’Or winner was one of the finest players of his generation, dazzling across his 13 years in Italy for Lazio and Juventus.

But it was in the early stages of his stunning career that Nedved completed his military service, which was only abolished by the Czech Republic in 2004.

In 1990, after four years at Skoda Plzen, Nedved was loaned to Dukla Prague, a club run by the army. That qualified as part of his period of national service.  

When that was completed, he moved to Sparta Prague before winning a move to Lazio in 1996. After impressing in Rome, he was brought to Juventus as a replacement for Zinedine Zidane, who had just gone to Real Madrid. 

Pavel Nedved played for Dukla Prague, run by the army, which contributed to his service

Nedved went on to star for Lazio and Juventus in Serie A, winning the Ballon d’Or in 2003

Italian stars

National service was mandatory in Italy until it was suspended in 2004. That means some of the game’s greatest players were called up to help the country during their careers. 

Paolo Maldini and Roberto Mancini did their stints together in 1988 while Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Cannavaro served together in 1995-96.

Their duties did not involve conventional military training for fear of major injury and instead they were largely consigned to the barracks. They also played for the Italian National Military Team, which competed in the World Military Cup every two years.

Gianluca Vialli guided Italy to victory in 1987 but Del Piero and Cannavaro could not clinch their own success on home soil in Rome in 1995, losing 2-1 to Cyprus in the quarter-finals.

To make things worse, Italy finished the match with seven men after four players, including Del Piero and Cannavaro, were shown a red card. 

Alessandro Del Piero (centre right) and Fabio Cannavaro (centre left) did their national service for Italy together in 1995-96, playing in the World Military Cup – and being sent off!

Gianluca Vialli holds the Military World Cup in 1987, two years after his national team debut

Bruce Grobbelaar

The former Liverpool goalkeeper is a particularly haunting case because he actually was involved in combat. Grobbelaar was just a teenager when he was called up to the Zimbabwean army in 1975 to fight in the Rhodesian Bush War.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2018, Grobbelaar gave a haunting account when asked to describe the first time he killed a man. He said: ‘My first time was at dusk. As the sun sinks you’re seeing shadows in the bush. You cannot recognise much until you see the whites of their eyes.

‘It’s you or them. You shoot, you drop and there’s overwhelming gunfire. You hear voices on your side: “Hey, corporal, I’m hit”. You whistle to shut them up otherwise we’re all getting killed.

‘When the firefight is finished you see bodies everywhere. The first time everything in your stomach comes up through your mouth.’

After impressing at Vancouver Whitecaps, Bob Paisley signed Grobbelaar for Liverpool. He won an impressive six league titles, three FA Cups and a European Cup before leaving in 1994. 

Bruce Grobbelaar (left) was in the Zimbabwean Army and thrown into the Rhodesian Bush War

Grobbelaar told Liverpool great Ray Clemence he would take his place shortly after joining

Lev Yashin

Before Yashin became arguably the world’s greatest-ever goalkeeper, he was a weapons manufacturer in Moscow.

In 1941, Yashin joined the effort in the Soviet war when the Nazis invaded Russia. At just 12 years old he worked in a factory, making weapons and parts for vehicles for troops on the front line. 

During his time there, he played for the football team and developed a game that saw him have a sensational career. 

A man who revolutionised the goalkeeping position, he made over 320 appearances for Dynamo Moscow and 78 for the Soviet national team, including four World Cups.

In 1941, Lev Yashin (in black) joined the effort in the Soviet war when the Nazis invaded Russia

At just 12, he worked in a factory, making weapons and parts for vehicles for the front line

Ferenc Puskas 

Although he never actually went to war or got called up for national service, one of football’s greatest-ever goal scorers did play for Hungarian Army’s team.

He started his career at Kispest and, after working his way through the youth system to the first team, the Hungarian Ministry of Defence took over the team in 1949. It became the Army team and changed its name to Budapest Honved.

Football players were given military ranks for playing in the team and Puskas holds the title of Major. He helped them win five Hungarian league titles and was the top goal scorer in Europe in 1948.

Puskas eventually left for Real Madrid in 1958 where he won three European and five Spanish titles. He is also an Olympic gold medallist and was part of the Hungarian team to lose in the 1954 World Cup final. 

Ferenc Puskas started his career at Kispest, which became the Hungarian Army team

Players were given military ranks for playing in the team and Puskas holds the title of Major

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