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How Heung-Min Son Became Tottenham’s Hero and an International Sensation » Asian Players


With its revolutionary retractable pitch, monumental LED screens, scientifically calibrated acoustics and “bottoms-up” beer-pouring system, Tottenham Hotspur‘s big 62,062-seater stadium in north London is probably the most ultra-modern soccer venue on the earth.

Fittingly, additionally it is residence to one of many world’s most futuristic footballers.

Versatile, lightning-quick, two-footed and lethal in front of objective, Heung-Min Son is the paradigm of the 21st-century participant. A footballer so industrious, so environment friendly and so finely tuned that you would be forgiven for questioning if he had been machine-engineered.

There isn’t any superfluity with Son—no pointless tips, no showy touches, no enjoying to the gallery. He has only one trick—the stepover—and he only ever deploys it to burst previous befuddled defenders on his method to objective. The 26-year-old South Korean plays as if he solely ever has five seconds to influence the game, which has helped flip him into one of the crucial harmful attacking players in Europe.

The hero of Tottenham’s Champions League quarter-final victory over Manchester City, Son was pressured to take a seat out the 1-0 loss to Ajax within the semi-final first leg due to suspension for yellow playing cards.

But to the aid of Spurs followers all over the place, he will return for Wednesday’s second leg in Amsterdam. His pace on the counter-attack ought to be an important weapon, especially with Tottenham’s star striker, Harry Kane, enduring another spell on the sidelines together with his persisting left ankle damage.

If Tottenham are to succeed in their first-ever Champions League last, they may need Son to be at his greatest.

Son is as low-key off the pitch as he is explosive on it, preferring to spend his free time enjoyable at residence and listening to music.

He lives a quiet life in London, sharing a three-bedroom condo together with his mother and father in prosperous Hampstead within the city’s northwest.

He has beforehand dated Korean pop stars Bang Min-ah and Yoo So-young however has stated that he can be comfortable to put off marriage till after his retirement.

There isn’t a scarcity of curiosity in his personal life back house in South Korea, though, the place his feats with Tottenham and the nationwide workforce have turned him right into a megastar.

“If you’re watching football on Korean TV, when it gets to an ad break, every single advert has a picture of his face in it somehow,” says Steve Worth, a British football writer based mostly in Seoul.

“There are adverts for ice cream, skincare, power drinks, noodles … He’s all over the place. When you go to a subway station, in all probability 1 / 4 of the adverts have his face on them.

“There are journalists whose job is just to cover Son Heung-min. They go to all of Spurs’ games and just write about what he does in them.”

These journalists have had a lot to put in writing about this season. Son was the primary Spurs player to score a objective on the club’s new stadium, setting his aspect up for a 2-Zero win over Crystal Palace at the start of final month with a deflected shot from the sting of the field.

Frank Augstein/Related Press

His second aim at the new floor was even more vital, a 78th-minute winner towards Manchester City earning Spurs a valuable 1-Zero advantage within the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

The sport towards City marked the 16th consecutive match through which Tottenham had gone on to win after Son scored.

That run got here to an end within the return leg towards Metropolis, nevertheless it did not matter. Although Metropolis gained Four-Three on the night time, Son’s two objectives in a three-minute stretch within the first half helped to ensure Spurs’ progress on away objectives. When Son scores, Spurs win. Even once they lose.

“As soon as he gets the ball, you’re expecting something to happen,” Gary Mabbutt, Tottenham’s iconic former captain, advised Bleacher Report.

“He’s a very difficult opponent to play against. If you’re marking a player who you know is left-footed, you know to show him onto his weaker foot. With someone like Son, you can’t show him anywhere, because he can go both ways.”

Son made a sluggish start to the season and didn’t find the web in the Premier League until the top of November. However he has been in excellent type since then, scoring 20 objectives in all competitions and serving to Tottenham make mild of their absent, injured talisman, Kane.

The statistics recommend that Son may even be extra necessary to Spurs than Kane. In response to Premier League statisticians Opta, Spurs’ win proportion when Son plays (60.9 per cent) is broadly the identical as when Kane plays (61.5 per cent). But when Son is lacking, that determine plummets to 44.4 per cent, whereas without Kane it falls to 50 per cent.

“Son’s stepped up to the mark, especially when Harry’s been out injured,” Mabbutt says.

“In my opinion, he’s been our most influential player over the last couple of seasons.”

All of Spurs’ games are shown reside on South Korean television, and any football followers needing a Son fix between matches want only tune to SPOTV2, where highlights of his greatest performances are used to plug gaps in the schedule each day.

Lee Younger-pyo’s three years at Tottenham, from 2005 to 2008, helped the membership set up a fanbase in South Korea. However Son’s exploits within the white shirt have taken things to a different degree.

Users of Naver, South Korea’s search engine big, can sign up to obtain news alerts about their favourite sports teams, and Tottenham are by far the preferred identify on the platform, comfortably outstripping European soccer heavyweights Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United—in addition to the nation’s massively well-liked baseball teams.

Son is South Korea’s captain and has represented his country at two World Cups and three Asian Cups. He wept within the changing room after South Korea have been eradicated within the group stage eventually yr’s World Cup in Russia. And there was further disappointment at this yr’s Asian Cup, when Paulo Bento’s aspect fell to a shock defeat towards eventual champions Qatar in the quarter-finals.

Fortunately for Son, those two setbacks sandwiched an achievement he had been pursuing because the very starting of his international profession. After being included as one among three over-age players within the South Korea U23 squad competing at the Asian Games in Indonesia final August, he helped his workforce to the gold medal, establishing each his aspect’s objectives in a 2-1 win over Japan in the ultimate.

It was the first time South Korea had gained gold beyond their own borders since 1978, and it earned the gamers an exemption from South Korea’s obligatory two-year army service, which has to start before males flip 28.

Son turned the all-time leading Asian goalscorer within the Premier League in November 2017, eclipsing his celebrated compatriot Ji-sung Park, the former Manchester United midfielder. His brace at Metropolis in April took him past Uzbekistan’s Maksim Shatskikh because the highest-scoring Asian player in the historical past of the Champions League.

A four-time winner of the Greatest Footballer in Asia award, he is already thought-about to be one of the biggest Asian players ever.

Son is a star in England and a hero in Korea, however it was in Germany that his profession took off.

Thorsten Fink turned Son’s coach when he took over at Hamburg in October 2011. The German surveyed his squad rigorously, and with good purpose. Hamburg have been rock-bottom of the Bundesliga table, and if Fink was going to get them out of hassle, he would wish to determine the players he might rely upon shortly.

Son was only 19 and had been enjoying first-team soccer for less than a yr, but he immediately made an impression on the new man at the helm.

“He was like a soldier,” Fink advised Bleacher Report. “He was a hard worker and, after training, he’d do extra training on his own. He was honest, he listened, he was never late and his discipline was really impressive. He was a real professional.”

Fink partly attributes Son’s professionalism to his father, Son Woong-jung. A former footballer in his personal right, he instilled a robust work ethic in his son, placing Heung-Min and his older brother, Heung-yun, by way of hour upon hour of football drills once they have been growing up in the northern South Korean metropolis of Chuncheon. As Son informed The Guardian earlier this yr: “Without him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Son joined the Hamburg academy in August 2008 as a part of a partnership between the club and the Korean Soccer Affiliation, dropping out of high school at 16 to pursue his dream of turning into knowledgeable footballer. By the time of Fink’s arrival, he spoke “perfect” German and was absolutely integrated in the first-team squad.

In coaching, Fink worked with him on his positioning and his movement between the strains, reasoning that “If we could get him in the right position, he would finish.”

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Son was primarily used instead in his first season but scored a few key objectives to help Hamburg end 5 points away from the relegation play-off spot.

The next season, he scored 12 objectives and saved his greatest performances for Hamburg’s matches towards Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, the defending champions. Hamburg broke Dortmund’s 31-game undefeated run with a Three-2 win at house and gained Four-1 away, with Son scoring a brace in every recreation.

Bayer Leverkusen have been capable of supply Son Champions League soccer and made their transfer in the summer of 2013, signing him from Hamburg for a reported club-record payment of €10 million. In shifting to Leverkusen, Son adopted in the footsteps of his illustrious compatriot Cha Bum-kun, who starred for the North Rhine-Westphalia membership in the late 1980s.

The worth tag seemed to weigh Son down in the course of the first few months of his Leverkusen profession, however in a reunion with Hamburg in November, he blew off the cobwebs spectacularly, scoring his first profession hat-trick in a 5-3 success.

As one in every of Leverkusen’s reserve goalkeepers, David Yelldell witnessed Son’s dedication firsthand. Son would typically ask him to stay behind after training to work on his free-kicks or practise operating in from the flanks and finishing with both ft.

Son’s 29 objectives in 87 appearances persuaded Spurs to signal him in a £22 million move in August 2015 that made him the costliest Asian footballer in historical past. None of his Leverkusen team-mates have been stunned to see him go.

“You could tell he wanted to take the next step as quickly as possible. I had the feeling he wanted to be someone special,” says Yelldell, who was capped by the USA in 2011.

“It’s not surprising that he’s now one of the best players in the Premier League and in the semi-finals of the Champions League. I think he’s not even done yet. For him, anything is possible.”

Clear-cut and clean-living, Son is an best figurehead, even when an uncharacteristic pink card towards Bournemouth on Saturday blotted his copybook.

He is adored by Tottenham’s supporters and, as demonstrated by the flowery collection of private handshakes he has devised for each of them, cherished by his team-mates.

“Son’s a lovely lad,” says Mabbutt, who made 611 appearances for Spurs between 1982 and 1998.

“I’ve presented him with the man-of-the-match award on numerous occasions, and he’s always very receptive with the fans. He’s very humble, he speaks very well and he’s always got a smile on his face. You put all those things together and you’ve got a fantastic package.”

Like all the other members of Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs cohort, Son doesn’t but have any silverware to point out for his stellar performances during the last 4 seasons (67 objectives and counting). But in Mabbutt’s eyes, he has already left an indelible mark on the club.

“What’s going to make him a Spurs great? He’s on his way to being a Spurs great already.”