Footballers in the armed forces

If not for South Korea's Asian Games 2018 gold medal, Tottenham Hotspur would have missed Heung-min Son for two years while he served in the South Korean military. Some renowned names have served in the armed forces during their times.

If not for South Korea's Asian Games 2018 gold medal, Tottenham Hotspur would have missed Heung-min Son for two years while he served in the South Korean military. But even if Son hadn't won the medal, he wouldn't be the first footballer to do military service. Some renowned names have served in the armed forces during their times. Photo: AP
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The machismo that the France and Manchester United legend exuded may be grounded in his years with the armed forces. Cantona started his career as a 17-year-old at French club Auxerre in 1983. But his career was put on hold in 1984 as he had to complete two years of service in the army. He was awarded his first international cap on his return and also signed a new professional contract with Auxerre. From there, we know it was only upward for his career. Yet, despite his service, Eric Cantona isn't someone one would describe as disciplined. Photo: Getty Images
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Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobelaar went from being a soldier in Rhodesia's civil war to Liverpool's goalkeeper in Merseyside derbies. Before signing for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979, the Zimbabwean, who grew in the former Rhodesia, was a soldier in the Rhodesian army and fought in the Rhodesian Bush War. He signed for Liverpool in 1981 and although his career had a shaky start, he ended up as one of the most successful African players in English football, winning three FA Cups, three League Cups and the 1983–84 European Cup. Photo: The Hindu Archives
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Sir Stanley Matthews was one of the most renowned footballers of his generation and the first one to be knighted. In a career that spanned a mammoth 33 years (retiring at 50), World War II forced him to spend the years between ages 24 and 30 in the Royal Air Force. He rose to the rank of corporal, but also managed to play 69 times for Stoke City in the wartime league. Matthews' stature was cemented when he became the first winner of the Ballon d'Or in 1956. Photo: Getty Images
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Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton is considered one of the best to have played the game. He played for United during the Matt Busby years when the club was at its most dominant and he ended his career as United's all-time highest top-scorer. But few know about his stint in the armed forces. Busby had advised Charlton to apply to the Royal Army Ordinance Corps, and there he served in 1956 alongside his United teammate Duncan Edwards. Photo: Getty Images
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Long before his three-year stint with Tottenham Hotspur, Tainio was offered a chance to play for Manchester United as a 16-year-old in 1997, having impressed in the Finnish leagues with TP-47 and FC Haka. A striker back then, Tainio had a successful trial with United and scored a few goals as well. Another spell at Carrington was imminent, until national duty came calling. “I was at Manchester United for a few weeks but in Finland you have to do army service and that was just before then,” explained Tainio. After his service in the Finnish Army, he moved to France where he played with Auxerre, before making the move to Spurs.
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Mohamed Salah came close to serving in the Egyptian army during his tenure with Chelsea in 2014. At 22, he was at a crucial point in his professional career and a break that long could have jeopardized his game. In Egypt, military service is postponed for those studying abroad. Salah's enrolment in an educational program he was on, was rescinded by his home country, which meant that he could be forced to return to Egypt and engage in military obligations. But his matter was escalated to the higher echelons of government and the Egyptian prime minister stepped in, sparing him from military duties. Photo: Getty Images
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Ahn Jung-Hwan's claim to fame is scoring the golden goal against Italy in the 117th minute that sent South Korea into the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup 2002. As North and South Korea are technically still at war, South Korea has a conscription policy that requires all able-bodied Korean men to serve in the military for at least 21 months between ages 18 and 28. An Olympic medal or Asian Games gold would qualify for exemption from mandatory service. Owing to South Korea's performance exceeding expectations at the World Cup, Ahn Jung-Hwan and team saw their conscription time slashed to just one month. Photo: AP
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