Heung-Min Son (손흥민)

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Not enough likes for your post Guido 🇺🇦 Guido 🇺🇦 I have posted the full article...

How Son Heung-min became destroyer from decorator – and grew up for good at Tottenham
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The Spurs star hasn't changed his playing style since arriving from the Bundesliga, so just how did he evolve into one of the Premier League's best players? Seb Stafford-Bloor investigates...


by
Seb Stafford-Bloor


Published
7 February 2019


What a difference three years can make. Straight off the plane from the Asian Cup and battling jet-lag, Son Heung-min has reinserted himself back into Tottenham’s season at just the right time. He provided the energy in the come-from-behind win over Watford just days after returning and, 72 hours later, was the difference against Newcastle, shimmying on the edge of the box and driving a violent shot through Martin Dubravka to settle a one-goal game.

Within that sequence lay nothing new; nothing which hasn’t been seen before. Son has always been able to knot up a defender and shoot with power. The difference, it seems, lies in his appetite for that kind of situation and this growing propensity to be at his very best when the anxiety around him is at its thickest. It’s not a situation which many would have foreseen, particularly given how his career in England began.

DREADFUL

In May 2016, he was among the worst of a rotten bunch at St James’ Park. Tottenham would lose 5-1 to an already-relegated Newcastle United on the final day of the season, allowing Woolwich to slip ahead of them during the season’s final act and condemn the fanbase to a summer of ridicule.


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Son was dreadful. He was substituted at half-time after a disengaged and detached 45 minutes, and replaced by Josh Onomah. It might even have been the epitaph to his Tottenham career. In the summer of 2016, discouraged by his initial failure to adapt, he had wanted to leave. A German club had offered quick passage back to the Bundesliga and just 10 months after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen, he was eager to return to this comfort zone.

In hindsight, it was hardly a surprise. Son had joined Spurs in the last days of the summer transfer window in 2015, without the benefit of a pre-season. As subsequent events have shown, Mauricio Pochettino makes players earn his trust: a big transfer fee and a famous name don't offer a quick entry to his first team. Moussa Sissoko has learned that lesson, while Lucas Moura is still learning it now.

TUNING UP

Son’s early Tottenham career offers the clearest explanation for why that is. In those days, despite his talent and abundant ability, he was the out-of-tune instrument in the orchestra. While his soloist tendencies occasionally produced spectacle, those contributions weren’t always for the greater good and, at their worst, actually weakened the buttressing structure at the core of the Pochettino brand. He was a fantastic player with the ball at his feet, certainly, but one still prone to long periods of anonymity and, against the very best teams, liable to have his defensive shortcomings exposed.

There were more abstract criticisms, too. Maybe it was distrust bred by something illusory, and Son seemed initially to be a fair-weather player. He would be the decoration on a fine performance, but rarely the reason for it – and that helped to perpetuate pre-existing assumptions about foreign players adapting to English football. The British game is enslaved to its own primacy, that will always be true, but it remains very distrustful of anyone who enters from outside mainland Europe.

Much of Son’s footballing education was actually traditionally European. He arrived in Hamburg as a 16-year-old and graduated into professionalism from inside the Bundesliga system. But Asian players have always had an uneasy relationship with the Premier League. Park Ji-sung was extremely successful at Manchester United and Shinji Okazaki won a league championship with Leicester City, but in the competition’s 27-year history there have been few authentic stars. For each Park or Okazaki, there was a Junichi Inamoto, a Li Tie and a Kazayuki Toda. The game may now be becoming more globally homogenised, meaning that regional stereotypes are often assumptive and wrong, but for a long time the tenets of the sport in Britain and Asia were significantly and problematically different.

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Even with those precedents, though, Son’s case is still unique. He’s certainly the most dynamic footballer the region has produced and, over time, has also proven himself to be the most destructive. He wasn’t purchased primarily for commercial reasons and he wasn’t sought out for his neat skill or his industriousness. None of those antiquated cliches applied to him. Instead, and unlike any Asian player to move to this country before, he was purchased to be an incendiary headliner.

That necessitates a distinction: between adapting to a new league in a manner which allows a player to function, and in a way which allows him to actually conquer it. They are different processes, clearly, and also come with different timelines and difficulties; Son was signed to dominate markers and fracture defences, not just to fulfil a narrow, 15-games-a-season purpose. Living up to that billing would have been a trial and so, in retrospect, it’s easy to draw straight lines between his initially-peripheral involvement, his sporadic impact and that reflexive desire to head back to Germany.

NATIONAL TREASURE

But as a first-class Asian footballer, he is also a novelty. Although some very fine players have originated from the continent, few have existed in quite the same sphere of celebrity. Sungmo Lee, who reports on Son for Goal.com, explains the true dimensions of his fame: “Son is a national treasure. He's the biggest sports star in South Korea - although I would say his popularity exceeds the boundary of 'sports star' and he's now the nation's biggest celebrity.”

As Sungmo also explained, that’s particularly interesting because football is not the country’s most popular sport: it’s baseball. There’s evidence to suggest that the ratios are shifting and that sporting tastes are starting to become more influenced by the West, but football certainly doesn’t occupy the same societal place in Korea that it does in England.

Through that lens, Son’s first year at Tottenham would have been particularly troubling. All reports depict him as a humble and family-orientated man, but balancing reduced status with such concentrated local celebrity would have been an obvious mental challenge. It’s hard to describe exactly why, but it’s likely linked to the manner in which the game is consumed in South Korea.

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Domestic coverage of Spurs’ games features a live stat line of his performance, recorded in a graphic more prominent than the score of the game itself. Around the Premier League also exists a network of Korean and Japanese journalists who track native players, reporting specifically on their progress; Maya Yoshida at Southampton, Okazaki at Leicester, and Yoshinori Muto at Newcastle are all followed by journalists assigned to them specifically.

Clearly, then, to be an Asian footballer in the Premier League is to be scrutinised. But to be an Asian footballing icon and to not be integral to a side would have been very trying indeed – and not because of ego, delicate pride, or any other traditional frailty. Famous English players who move abroad have certainly piqued interest in the past, but always in a relatively passive way. That’s the privilege of coming from a long and deep footballing culture. Son may not necessarily have been aware of it, but he hasn’t had that kind of protection, serving more as a general avatar for South Korean football. With that comes frenzy, pressure and, for a young adult, a greater stress on the need for maturity.

ADAPTING

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Those issues seem to tally with Sungmo’s own private observations. While anyone can detect technical refinement and growing efficiency, he traces Son’s improving performance to his adaptation to a new reality: “During those three years, Son became captain of the South Korea national team, and at the same time started to evolve into a leader at Tottenham. For both teams, he's showing more responsibility as a senior player than he did in his early 20s.

“I would say he's much more mature as a player and as a person,” says Sungmo. “He also became calmer than before, I feel.”


‘Calmer’ is a telling description. A reassuring one, too, which possibly has more than one root. Son has grown to become an accepted top-level player in England (at the time of writing he is well in contention for the Player of the Year award) and, by virtue of South Korea’s gold medal performance at the Asian Games, is now exempt from his national service. Most likely, it would have been deferred to the end of his career regardless, but under normal rules men are required to serve two years in the national military between the ages of 18 and 28. What effect that looming deadline had on him can only be speculated upon. What can be said, though, is that time pressure rarely helps a sporting career and, for Son, the need to accentuate the value of his prime years would have been especially pressing.

Collectively, these are just subliminal factors. In the present day, Son is the player he is because of myriad tactical issues and his value can be diagnosed with more traditional footballing assessment. His speed is both a tremendous asset to Tottenham’s counter-attack and a great influence upon it. His relationship with Harry Kane and Dele Alli is the basis for their attacking chemistry. Pochettino's trust in him has also grown exponentially and there are few players who the Argentine talks about with such obvious affection.

Nevertheless, Son the person seems to have evolved at the same rate as the player. From Tottenham’s perspective, with Kane limping around at the Super Bowl and Dele still recuperating thousands of miles away, it’s really just as well. Their out-of-tune instrument has become the rhythm of the orchestra itself, with Son setting the tone of this unlikely challenge to Liverpool and Manchester City.
 
Son is under appreciated because fans and pundits tend to put players into boxes for comparison. He’s the best Asian player ever (although he’d never say it), but that does him a disservice. Son should be compared to the best in the world.

His ability to play on the wing or up top, alone or in a pair, with little to no drop off in performance is astonishing. He is one of the most two footed players I have ever seen. If he was Brazilian or Spanish or some other “sexy” football country he’d be an international superstar. He also comes off as genuinely humble and enjoying every minute of it.

Don’t forget, he’s only 26 and just entering his prime - he may not have even reached his ceiling yet. I hope Spurs are fortunate enough to have Sonny here for the rest of his career.
 
Kind of. He’s probably the player that pundits describe as “the most underrated player in the Premier League” more than anyone else. Goals like his one this evening will go a long way to change that view. That was a bit special, regardless of Sideshow Bob being a laughable moron.

What a great predicament we have; Son, Lucas Moura, and Lamela!

One day I’d love to see all three playing behind Kane, with Dele and Eriksen in a midfield two, just to see what would happen.
If that was Salah theyd be calling it the greatest goal ever scored by the greatest ever footballer
 
Love this guy.

There was something about his performance today, and especially the lap at the end soaking up the applause - I really get the impression he feels hurt/ massively disappointed in the way Kane has handled things.

Sonny wants to set the example and show the fans how much he appreciates us, and the badge.
 

Sidd

Seoulite Yidette / TTID COYS
[인터뷰] 손흥민, 지성이 형한테도 말 못한 토트넘 이적 비화 :: 네이버스포츠

The looooog interview is made in Korean. Below is my sloppy - abstracted - translation.

---------

Son answered to the questions regarding the important decision he made last week, as well as another important goal; World Cup.


Q. You must had a hectic time last week.


A. Indeed. Only about a week left before closure of transfer window, the two clubs were very busy negotiating. I also had mad times, visiting London back and forth.

Q. So I’m worried about your fitness.

A. I’m alright. You don’t need to worry about it. I was stressed out before all the deals are done, couldn’t sleep well for a week. But now everything is done and dusted, I feel very comfortable. Good to be back home as well.

Q. What made you struggle with insomnia?

A. Bayern didn’t agree with the move at first. They were worried that I might be leaving a week before the window closed. They didn’t have enough time to find a new one. I appreciate them trying to hold me, which also makes me feel bad. But I really wanted to play in the PL once. I was desperate since I think Spurs is a great side and I know Poch is a good coach as well. That’s why I was stressed out.

Q. Also you had to deal this important business with the national team schedule.

A. I have missed some matches with Leverkusen for my medical test and so. That’s why the match against Laos is very important personally: playing on the pitch and focus on the football again. I feel good, so if the opportunity is given I’ll do everything I can. I have to leave for England earlier than other players to finalize my procedures with the club, that’s why I have to pay 100%.

Q. Many people are looking forward to see you play, since your transfer was such a big issue here.

A. I know many fans are looking forward to me. I appreciate them, I tend to enjoy those spotlights. I’ll show my best at pitch.

Q. Your national teammate Chung-yong Lee also plays in London.

A. He was the first person I met when I visited London. He was delighted and said “(you’re coming to) London! London!!” I’m glad that I have people to rely on in London when I struggle with the life in the city or in the PL. Lee is actually kind of my role model since I was a kid. He’s always very good to me. I’m so happy to have him nearby.

Q. Ji-sung Park also lives in London. Did you call him?

A. (Laughs) Actually, when the clubs were negotiating Park called me first. He asked if I was in London. Then actually my medical check was undergoing in London but I had to deny it. I was getting checked, putting papers on the body getting ECG or something, the deal was so confidential so I had to deny it. I felt so bad about it, so the day after I signed the contract and directly called him. Thankfully he understood the situation and told me that he’ll be staying in London for a while so feel free to call him anytime I want. He said he’s usually idle and have tons of time. He’s such a good person.

Q. So you lied to him. (Laughs)

A. No no, I didn’t lie! The situation was tricky and I was being careful as it’s confidential. He understood me.

Q. Talking about the national team, this is the 2nd match of Asian qualifying round. Your freekick against Myanmar in June was amazing.

A. I was amazed at it too. There was a foul there, Yeom Kihoon did the kick first but the keeper saved it. So when the chance came I said I would do the kick. Then I put the ball and stared at the goal, and it seemed too far! So then I asked Yeom whether he’d like to kick it again. But he said I should kick it so I just did it. The ball struck well but I thought the keeper can save it again, but somehow it became a goal. Few days ago Ki Sung-Yeung called me and asked “Are you going to kick that fluck shot again?”. I said hell yeah, I’m gonna do that again!

Q. The striker Lee Jeong-hyup is out for being injured, other forward players are highly demanded.

A. The game will not be easy. Games like this are more difficult. Our individual players or team power might be better than their’s, but Laos will play a very defensive game so we will have to break down narrow spaces they allow. People are expecting multiple goals but these games are what the team play is most asked for. Not only this single match but every match to qualify for the World Cup is important: we have to play as a team, a strong team.

Q. It’ll be more stressful when everybody says the game is easy.

A. Right. We have to try not to be relaxed. The match against Myanmar wasn’t easy at all. The initial atmosphere of the match is important. We have to make them feel that there’s no hope of win here.

Q. What do you think of the head coach, Uli Stielike?

A. I feel very comfortable with him as I can communicate with him in German. He’s good to me as well. He looks like a coach who can develop each player’s ability. Tactically, he plays football that doesn’t lose, which is his most distinctive character.

Q. Matches for the national team are important, but your constant play at your team will say it all. So you’ll have to adapt to Tottenham soonest possible. What was your first impression of PL?

A. I watched a game at the Lane. It was different atmosphere, different tactics, different type of fans which were all very exciting. The most impressive thing was that when Germans play football focused on tactics, English football seemed very pacey and physical. 1v1 defending looked quite tight. It’s an exciting football that I always wanted to play. So I cannot guarantee my success but I want to play my best.

Q. What should you do to strengthen yourself, and what’s your confidence?

A. They play tough games, the referees don’t use their whistles much. So I thought I’ve got to strengthen myself physically. I’m confident with my shoots in any circumstances, so I would like to contribute to the team score.

Q. You’ll have to be getting well with Spurs players to be adapted.

A. I was fond of Dembélé and Vertonghen. When I first visited Spurs, Jan first came to me and said hello. So I said S. Korea had to come back from Brazil earlier than expected because of you guys, and he laughed. Spurs got many talented players, I’ll be following around them to be adapted.


Son said he was surprised when he visited Spurs Clubhouse. The club recently renovated their club house prior to the stadium. He did like the clubhouse of Leverkusen, but the facilities of Spurs were far beyond what he expected, and he loved it. New circumstances, new facilities and the fierce support of North Londoners - all will be spurring him to achieve his goals and dreams, he said.
 
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