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Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in bury the hatchet after London meeting

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Son Heung-min, right, and Lee Kang-in discuss tactics before taking a free kick during an Asian Cup group stage game against Bahrain in Doha on Jan. 15.  [YONHAP]
Son Heung-min, right, and Lee Kang-in discuss tactics before taking a free kick during an Asian Cup group stage game against Bahrain in Doha on Jan. 15. [YONHAP]


Son Heung-min called for fans to forgive Lee Kang-in on Wednesday after the two met in London, effectively ending a dispute that has dominated the headlines in Korea for the last week.

“Kang-in has been having a very tough time since the incident,” Son wrote in a post on his official Instagram account. “Please forgive him one time with a generous heart. I beg you as national team captain.”

Son and Lee have been at the center of the news cycle since reports broke on Feb. 13 that Son had been injured during an altercation with a teammate in the Korea camp at the Asian Cup. The KFA quickly confirmed the report.

Reports later indicated the other player was Lee, with the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder apologizing on Feb. 14 for his part in a disagreement with Son. Lee did not acknowledge that there was a physical element to the fight, and his legal representatives a day later denied reports that Son grabbed him by the collar and he took a swing at Son.

While both Son and Lee have now acknowledged that a dispute took place, nobody that was in the room has gone on the record to confirm the details of the physical altercation.

Lee quickly faced a barrage of criticism from some fans, a slew of offensive posts and even calls to boycott brands that have sponsorship deals with him.

“Kang-in sincerely reflected on his behavior and apologized to every national team member, including me,” Son said in his Instagram post on Wednesday. “I also made a lot of mistakes when I was young and exhibited bad behavior, and I think I am where I am now thanks to the harsh advice and guidance of good senior players.

“As a national team member and also as a captain, we will all help [Lee], so that he doesn’t do anything wrong like this again and becomes a better person and player.

“I also don’t think that my actions were right, and I deserve to be criticized for that. But since I think that doing something undesirable is one of a caption’s duties, I will also take actions for the team even if it means I get into that [sort of] situation.

“But I will work to lead the team more wisely from now on.”

Son Heung-min, left, and Lee Kang-in pose together in a photo posted on Son's official Instagram account on Wednesday. [Screen captured from Son's Instagram]
Son Heung-min, left, and Lee Kang-in pose together in a photo posted on Son’s official Instagram account on Wednesday. [Screen captured from Son’s Instagram]

Son’s post came just minutes after Lee uploaded a second apology on his own Instagram account.

“At the Asian Cup, I hugely disappointed Heung-min, the entire team and football fans with my rash thoughts and actions,” Lee wrote in a post accompanied by a blank, black image. “I thought it was important to visit Heung-min in person and apologize to him. I understand the captain’s responsibilities after a long conversation and I took the time to look back at myself. I thank Heung-min once again through this post for welcoming me in London.

“I knew how eager Heung-min was to win the tournament, but I didn’t take that into account with my heart and actions, which I think started the problem.

“I didn’t listen to the advice that Heung-min gave me for the sake of uniting the team as a captain and senior player. I only strongly stated my opinions.”

Lee went on to apologize for his lack of maturity and vowed to improve his behavior in the future.

With the Son-Lee hatchet now effectively buried — and the full details of what actually happened in Qatar unlikely to ever actually come out — Korean football can now move back to focusing on the far bigger issue: The lack of a national team manager.

Jurgen Klinsmann was ousted as manager of the Korean national team last week following Korea’s disappointing semifinal exit from the Asian Cup.

A replacement is yet to be named, with KFA Chairman Chung Mong-gyu — who is also facing calls to resign — naming a new head and members of the National Team Committee on Tuesday. Former national team coach Chung Hae-sung leads that new committee.

Meanwhile, Chung Mong-gyu is being investigated by police following accusations by a Korean civic group that he abused his power by appointing Klinsmann in the first place.

BY JIM BULLEY AND PAIK JI-HWAN [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]