Ki goes the extra miles for club and country
21st February 2015
Tickets for a West End theatre show, a helicopter tour over London or a river cruise? Ki Sung-Yueng has no shortage of options should he decide to cash in on the air mile reward points he has collated in recent years. And he has clocked up plenty.
The South Korea captain, who last month led his nation to the final of the Asian Cup, has been making the gruelling journey from the UK to South East Asia for over five years to represent his country on the international stage.
From trips home to his native country to face Costa Rica and Paraguay earlier this season, plus visits to Jordan and Iran in November, as well as last month's Asian Cup in Australia, there's no such thing as an "international break" for the Swansea midfielder.
In between the some 5,500-mile trips, Ki barely has time to catch his breath before taking to the field to represent club or country.
"Let's say I play in London at 3pm on Saturday, I will then take a flight after the game at about 9pm," says Ki, as he reveals the hectic schedule he lives by whenever he is called up for international duty.
"I go straight from the ground to the airport, have some food and then take an 11-hour flight. I'll land about 4pm on the Sunday in Korea. I'll sleep at home, then the next day I'll go to the training camp.
"We'll train for a few days, then we will have the game maybe on the Thursday. If it's two international games, we will then play again on the following Tuesday."
Ki pauses for breath before continuing - it feels exhausting just talking about it: "After the game, I'll go home and rest. I'll only have two or three hours sleep before I go to the airport in the morning to get a flight back here.
"It takes 12 hours on the way back. Then it's a car journey back to Swansea, and I'll probably get back in Wales at around 9pm on the Wednesday night. Then it's training the next day ahead of the match on Saturday.
"It's a crazy schedule, and the travelling takes it's toll on the body. At this level, you have to be at 100 per cent every game. But if it means I play for my club and country, I'm happy to do it."
On top of all the travelling at this year's Asian Cup, where Ki represented his country in the blistering heat of Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, the 26-year-old also had to deal with the added responsibility of captaining his country for the very first time.
Overall, Ki's first stint as skipper proved a positive one, as South Korea reached the final of the Asian Cup for the first time since 1988 and conceded just two goals throughout the entire tournament.
Unfortunately for Ki and the rest of South Korea, those two goals happened to be in the final when they were edged out by hosts Australia 2-1 after extra-time.
"It's disappointing that we couldn't become champions, but it was a great experience for everyone, especially for the younger boys," Ki explains.
"I didn't expect to be named captain, and I didn't realise at first just how hard the job is - there is a lot of pressure.
"On and off the pitch, I have to take care of the boys to help them perform. I am the connection between them and the coaching staff, so at times it can be tough.
"But I just tried to lead by example, and I think I grew as a captain as the tournament went on.
"As a team, I don't think we played that well throughout the tournament, but we were very focused in every game, which is why we managed to keep clean sheets and win games.
"We will benefit from reaching the final and will improve for the next major tournament."
Upon returning from international duty, Ki had little time to shrug off the jet lag before swapping the South Korean shirt for Swansea colours to figure in Garry Monk's side that hosted his former club Sunderland a fortnight ago.
And the ex-Celtic midfielder certainly didn't appear tired as he made an instant impact for the Swans, producing a man-of-the-match performance and scoring a second-half equaliser to earn his side a 1-1 draw with the Black Cats.
As has been the case with his country for several years now, Ki has become an important player for Monk's men this season, orchestrating the play from the base of Swansea's midfield, recycling possession, breaking down opposition moves before starting attacks of Swansea's own.
"So far, this has probably been my best year, but I try to keep going and help the team become better," insists Ki.
"It's hard to say for certain because it's not the end of the season, but I have definitely grown a lot this season.
"My confidence has improved from my first year here. There was a time when things were tough here, but that is life. Now I am enjoying a very happy time.
"But I have learnt that when things are tough, you can't ever get too disappointed. And when things are good, you can't afford to be over confident. It's important to stay calm and keep working.
"There's a lot of competition here, and you have to always show your quality or someone else will take your place."
So far this season, Ki has scored four goals for the Swans - his best total in English football - which included his first goal for the club on the opening day of the campaign against today's opponents Manchester United.
In truth, that emphatic victory at Old Trafford, as well as Ki's well-taken goal, set a precedent for the season for both club and player.
"It was a special win for the team and a special goal for myself," admits Ki. "It gave us confidence.
"People thought they would win the game, but the result ended differently, and we proved we can beat anyone on our day.
"They are the biggest team in the league, but we are strong at home and can get the result.
"We've already experienced against teams like Arsenal that we can hurt big teams, especially with our fans' support.
"It will be a challenge, but we won't be afraid. We might suffer during the game because of their quality, but we will have chances. It's up to us to take them."
One thing those reward points won't be able to buy is three points this afternoon. But, as ever, the South Korea captain will be putting in the miles on the pitch to ensure the Swans have a fighting chance of earning them.