Profile: Tottenham’s in-form forward, Son Heung-min
So what do you need to be successful in the Premier League? Do you need to be solid at the back? Do you need to have proven Premier League strikers? Or do you need goals to come from all areas of the field.
You could argue that Tottenham Hotspur possess all of the key attributes to succeed at such a level.
“A one-man team,” is the way many people define the North London Club.
“Without Harry Kane, Spurs are nothing.” Based on Saturday’s performance, you can only disagree with such a comment.
While the local lad and Dele Alli grabbed the headlines last year, maybe an unsung hero was featuring on the Spurs flank – his name was Son Heung-Min.
But six goals in his last six league appearances has proved that this kid is fundamental to Spurs’ success in England’s top-flight. A brace at the weekend against newly promoted Middlesbrough was his second of the season, in only his third league start for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
SHOOT takes a look at the South Korean and analyses how essential he is for the North London side.
Where did it all start for Son?
Son was born in Chuncheon, the capital of the South Korean province of Gangwon. He always had an interest in football. There was one problem however, South Korean football lacked quality. Where could he learn about the beautiful game?
His love for football was born as a result of one countries passion for the sport, England. He adored the Premier League. Manchester United were his favourite side as a youngster; his heroes being fellow countryman Park Ji-Sung, and a man who many refer to as the best in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Maybe one day the young boy could be playing alongside the world’s greatest?
He certainly had the talent to do so. But to get to the top, you must take risks. That is exactly what Son did. In 2008, aged just 16, the future Premier League star dropped out of FC Seoul’s Under-18 side.
His destination was Germany, as Hamburg – a side who finished fourth in the Bundesliga at the end of the 2007-08 campaign – lured the youngster, alongside two other of his teammates, to Eastern Europe. A new era beckoned.
What happened next?
A new country. Even a new continent. For some 16-year-olds, all of the change would be extremely daunting.
Despite the language barrier being an issue initially, it certainly wasn’t intimidating for this kid. He began to love all that Northern Germany had to offer. A new tradition. A new style of football. It was a bit of a contrast to the “boring and severe” attitude to football in his homeland. He was even quoted to saying that he wanted to stay in Germany for the rest of his life.
But to do that, he had to perform on the pitch. Thankfully for all parties, Son was not shy of putting a lighting performance in for Hamburg’s reserve side. The South Korean was indispensable for the reserve side throughout the 2009-10 season as they finished fifth in their local section of Germany’s fourth-tier.
The first-team, however, still looked a long way off. That was until a pre-season that changed his life. Nine goals throughout the build up to the 2010-11 campaign, put the South Korean in the manager’s first-team plans. Perhaps it was time for a change going forward for the Dinosaurs?
But then came something every player dreads, injury. Just as his dreams of playing Bundesliga football looked to becoming a reality, he was sent crashing back down to earth. When he returned, he questioned himself. Would he feature for the first-team? Or would it be back to playing reserve football? Thankfully for Son, it was the latter.
His first appearance for the first-team came inside the “RheinEnergieStadion”, home of FC Koln. Over 50,000 fans screamed for the home side. This was a bit different to playing on the fields of South Korea.
For Son Heung-min, however, it did not make a difference. A goal inside the opening 15 minutes made him the club’s youngest-ever Bundesliga goalscorer at just 18.
Despite a late winner by hat-trick hero Milivoje Novakovic earning the Billy Goats three crucial points, it was a day that the South Korean will never forget.
How did he perform in his final years in Germany?
If he had already cemented his position in the Bundesliga side’s starting XI, his next aim was to make himself known on the world stage. He continued to be key for the Northern German side, scoring two goals in successive games at the end of the 2011-12 Bundesliga season, strikes which were key to his side avoiding relegation as Hamburg finished just five points off a relegation play-off decider.
But Son was better than this. He could have performed at a higher level, rather than fighting off relegation each year. As the summer transfer window reached its climax, speculation intensified about his future. Hamburg needed him, however, following the departures of Mladen Petric and Paolo Guerrero to Corinthians and Fulham respectively.
But hang on. Couldn’t the departures of these two key individuals give the South Korean more game time? Quite simply, it could.
The 2012-13 season, will be a year that Son will never forget. Twelve goals in 33 appearances guided Hamburg to a respective seventh-place finish, only three points off a Europa League place.
On a personal level, the accolades were even greater. He only became the third Asian to score over 10 goals in Europe’s top three leagues.
How has he got to this point?
Inevitably, he attracted the interest of some of Europe’s biggest and most attractive clubs. In the end, however, he stayed in Germany; commuting to the West of the country to join Bayer Leverkusen, of whom qualified for Champions League football the campaign beforehand.
He didn’t have to deal with any pressure at all, just the reported €10m fee that became the biggest sum the club had ever paid…
The price-tag, however, didn’t worry the future Premier League star. He adapted into his surroundings well, scoring his first goal on his league debut against Freiburg. But despite a jubilant start, the goals somewhat stopped flowing.
That was until his former team came to town. A hat-trick on remembrance weekend against Hamburg ensured the three points, but most importantly, ensured that he returned to red-hot form. A brace against Nuremburg a few weeks later, was another highlight of a rather frustrating season as Leverkusen were unable to secure their place in the following season’s Champions League group stages.
The following term went a bit more to plan. A hat-trick against Wolfsburg on Valentine’s Day 2015 being the highlight as Son finished the season with 11 league goals.
By this point, he was making a name for himself within German football. He became the star of Asia. But, when an offer from the Premier League, a league he had watched since he was an infant, came in August 2015, it would be pretty hard to turn it down.
That offer came from Tottenham. He joined Spurs just days before the summer window slammed shut for a fee of £22m. His move to North London made him the most expensive Asian player ever.
The step-up was difficult. Initially, he didn’t look even half the player he did in Germany. Another new language. Another new culture. Another new style of play. All of which would contribute to the embedding process taking longer than expected.
But manager Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t deal with a player embedding in. He needed players who could shine week-in-week-out as Spurs aspired to lift their first top division title since Bobby Smith’s side won the Football League back in 1961.
A goal drought of over three months made Tottenham fans perceive that maybe the step-up was too much. But, as the title race reached its culmination, the South Korean showed the Londoners what he was made of. A goal at Stamford Bridge in the opening half of their London Derby against Chelsea, surely ensured that Leicester City would have to wait until the following Saturday to be crowned champions of England, right?
Not quite. Chelsea had other ideas. Eden Hazard’s curling shot from 25 yards, guaranteed the greatest sporting fairy-tale had its happy ending. For Spurs, however, it was heartbreak.
Why is he so key for Tottenham?
Last Sunday, White Hart Lane was silenced. Every fan in the white of Spurs glazed at the running track around the field, as their hearts sank at what they saw. As star striker Kane was stretchered off, the players began to understand that they had to stand up and be counted for.
So far this season, Son has done exactly that. A brace on the fourth weekend of the season, followed by another double at the Riverside on Saturday, conveyed the message that this kid will be fundamental if Spurs wish to go that one step further than they did last term.
While the likes of Vincent Janssen settle into the capital, individuals such as Son and Alli must step up and perform. Based on Saturday’s performance, you can’t really call Spurs a one-man team, can you?