First Look: Son Heung-Min

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Name: Son Heung-Min

Age: 23

Date of Birth: 08/07/1992

Nationality: Korean

Club: Tottenham

Position: Forward

Height: 6ft (183cm)

Weight 12st 2lbs (78kg)

Preferred Foot: Right  

The move came from out of the blue. Bayer Leverkusen winger Son Heung-Min, otherwise known as ‘Sonaldo’ or ‘Son-sation’ was having a medical in London, and just days later the £22m deal was confirmed. But who is he and what kind of player are Tottenham getting?

As a young footballer beginning his career, Son played for his school, Dongbuk High School and for the FC Seoul youth teams. The FC Seoul academy has produced many Korean talents, notably ex-Bolton and now Crystal Palace winger Lee Chung-Yong as well as Jeju United midfielder Song Jin-Hyung. In the summer of 2008 aged just 16, Son signed for Hamburg on a free transfer and was instilled into their second side, Hamburger SV II, who play in the RegionalLiga (the fourth tier of German football).

In 2009/10, Son made six appearances for Hamburg II scoring one goal. These numbers weren’t turning any heads, but it’s worth noting that he was only seventeen years of age and settling into a new country with a different culture and language. That summer, he impressed during pre-season scoring nine goals, and was rewarded with a promotion to the first team, signing his first professional contract on his 18th birthday. The 2010/11 campaign saw him feature 13 times for Hamburg in the Bundesliga, scoring three goals. Son also became the youngest Hamburg player to score in the German top flight, breaking the previous 39-year record held by Manfred Kaltz.

The 2011/12 season brought 27 first team appearances, most of them from the bench as an impact player. He scored five goals in the Bundesliga, second to only Mladen Petric on seven as Die Rothosen struggled and finished 15th. The summer would see Petric and Paolo Guerrero depart Hamburg for Fulham and Corinthians respectively. Manager Thorsten Fink decided to keep faith in Son and play him as his starting striker. The Korean would then repay the faith shown in him by his manager, scoring 12 goals in 33 appearances throughout 2012/13 as Der Dino rallied to finish impressively in 7th.

On June 13, 2013, Bayer Leverkusen confirmed the signing of Son for €10 million, the highest transfer fee the club has ever paid in its history. It would not take him long to settle, scoring a hat-trick against his former side Hamburg in November, as well as a crucial winner against Borussia Dortmund in December. He finished the 2013/14 campaign with 12 goals in 43 appearances, playing mostly on the left wing. The Korean forward’s most prolific campaign was last season, when he scored 17 goals in 40 appearances, including five in the Champions League. Under Roger Schmidt’s high intensity style, Son flourished and was able to interchange with the likes of Julian Brandt, Karim Bellarabi and Hakan Calhanoglu, as Leverkusen finished 4th.

Undoubtedly, one of Son’s biggest strengths is his ambidexterity. We’ve seen how players like Santi Cazorla, Christian Eriksen and Adam Lallana have excelled in the Premier League due to their assuredness on both feet, and Son will be no different. Comfortable going left or feigning right, this instantly makes him a more difficult proposition to defend which will only benefit Tottenham going forward. The 23 year-old also likes to shoot from range, with good effect as well after scoring some wonder goals for Leverkusen last season. One example of his long range shooting can be seen against Zenit St.Petersburg on November 4, 2014 in the Champions League group stages. As Calhanoglu stood over a free kick just over 30 yards out, a set piece from the training ground is played out with Bellarabi coming short to meet a disguised pass on the edge of the area. Zenit are caught napping, and as Bellarabi gently lays off the ball to Son, he curls a beautiful strike into the top right hand corner from all of 25 yards with devastating precision. The Korean international took 30 shots from outside the area last season, more than any other Leverkusen player bar Hakan Calhanoglu, who is considered a specialist from long range playing just behind the striker.

Another impressive aspect to Son’s game is his ability to work the goalkeeper regularly. In the Premier League, it has been shown time and time again that you can be punished should you not take your chances, but the 23 year-old forward is often composed in front of goal, using his confidence on both feet to his advantage. The 2014/15 season saw the Korean take 2.50 shots per 90 minutes, hitting the target 54% of the time with a chance conversion rate of 20%. While on first glance this seems average, if you compare this number to other forwards in the Bundesliga he is statistically one of the best. Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne, now of Manchester City ended the campaign on 53% shot accuracy while Borussia Monchengladbach’s Thorgan Hazard and Mario Gotze did so on 36% and 52% respectively. Out of the top four clubs (Bayern, Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Leverkusen), Son was only beaten by Arjen Robben who ended 2014/15 with 60% shot accuracy. 

Son is a very creative player in the final third, using his vision and awareness to execute those eye of the needle passes on a regular basis. In terms of chances created, Son registered 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes last season in the Bundesliga. That number was better than Nacer Chadli (1.4), Harry Kane (0.9) and new signing Clinton N’Jie (0.8) at Tottenham, whilst losing out to Christian Eriksen on 2.39 and Erik Lamela on 2.35. He also completed 1.46 key passes per 90 minutes with a pass completion rate of 76%, which again was superior to all of those in the Tottenham ranks bar Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela. An example of his creativity in the final third can be seen against Hertha Berlin on April 14, 2014. After picking up the ball on the left hand side just past the halfway line, he assessed his options before playing a perfectly weighted pass over the top of the Hertha backline to find the onrushing teenager, Julian Brandt. The ball bounced perfectly in the stride of the German, as he dinked the ball over the stranded goalkeeper Thomas Kraft. This pass took great skill and vision to execute, and is just another example of what Tottenham fans can be expecting with the 23 year-old.

One part of his game that could be improved is his dribbling. For such a technically accomplished player, Son only completed 4.6 dribbles per 90 minutes last season with a successful take on percentage of 47%. This was a number beaten by Calhanoglu and Bellarabi on 50% and 56% at Leverkusen, but also by de Bruyne (57%), Robben (67%), Hazard (54%) and Perisic (50%) in the Bundesliga last season.

As the most expensive Asian player in football history following his move to North London, the 23 year old Son must really kick on now. After impressing in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League last season, it is clear that he is an extremely talented player whose mixture of technical ability and defensive work could suit Mauricio Pochettino’s style perfectly. Quick, versatile and comfortable on both feet, after leaving Champions League football at Leverkusen for his dream Premier League move, the forward now has a point to prove and he will embrace the chance to do so at White Hart Lane.

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First Look: Son Heung-Min
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