On Thursday night, Son Heung-min will lead Tottenham in a crucial match against Chelsea, pivotal for the north London club’s quest to secure a top-four finish and Champions League football. The absence of Spurs’ captain due to his participation in the Asian Cup during the middle of the season potentially hindered the club’s progress. Not only would Ange Postecolgou have had his top scorer available for those critical weeks, but Son might also have been in better physical and mental condition since then.

In England, discussions regarding mid-season continental tournaments often revolve around the inconvenience for clubs as players depart for Asia or Africa. However, less attention is given to the physical and mental toll on the individuals involved. Mohamed Salah, Jürgen Klopp, and Liverpool may rue Salah’s participation in the Africa Cup of Nations in January, considering the subsequent injury and loss of form.

The Asian Cup in January and February proved to be a challenging tournament for South Korea and its key players. The team, under pressure to end a 64-year trophy drought, faced setbacks, including a disheartening loss in the semifinals. Son’s involvement in a training-camp incident further exacerbated the situation, drawing significant attention and criticism.

Players who embark on mid-season continental journeys deserve some understanding. These athletes, often stars for both their European clubs and national teams, face immense pressure and expectations. Son’s packed schedule, juggling club and international commitments, underscores the demands placed upon such players.

Moreover, the emotional strain is considerable. Players like Son and Salah serve as the linchpins for their respective national teams, bearing immense responsibility both on and off the pitch. Following disappointing results, such as Korea’s loss to Jordan, the toll on Son’s morale was evident.

Despite the challenges, players swiftly return to club action, as seen in Son’s quick transition back to the Premier League after the Asian Cup. However, subsequent performances may not match previous levels of sharpness.

The intensity of mid-season tournaments can also impact players’ physical well-being. Hwang Hee-chan’s rushed return from injury during the Asian Cup illustrates the risks associated with national team commitments. Similarly, Kim Min-jae’s struggles in the Champions League following his participation in the tournament highlight the potential repercussions.

While mid-season continental competitions may not be the sole reason for late-season dips in form, the cumulative effect of intense matches in major tournaments, often marred by disappointment and controversy, undoubtedly leaves a mark. Nevertheless, players quickly shift focus back to club duties, hoping to swiftly overcome any lingering effects and resume their usual level of performance.