Son Heung-min is one of the most riveting players in the world. Born in Chuncheon, South Korea, Son has enjoyed a brilliant career thus far, and could be considered one of the greatest Asian players of all time when he eventually retires.
No matter the circumstances, one can almost always see a smile on the face of Son. His amiable personality, combined with his on-field brilliance have allowed the South Korean to thrive in both Germany and England, which many are unable to do. Son is unique, because he is one of the most lovable players in all of world soccer. His energetic, positive nature is contagious—both to his teammates and supporters alike, and his genuine nature gives people little to hate about him as a person. He plays with integrity and heart, and always represents himself with class. His positivity has been crucial at times over the past few years, and it is typified by his goal celebrations. Son has a special handshake with all of his teammates, and he is just as happy when they score as when he scores himself.
In August 2008, Son left South Korea at age 16, in favor of the youth academy at German club Hamburger SV. With no guarantees, Son impressed the hierarchy at the club, and was able to earn himself a professional contract with the German side. Never resting on his laurels, Son continued to improve year in and year out, drawing comparisons to his compatriot and Bundeslida legend Cha Bum-kun. In June 2013, Son took the next step forward in advancing his career, by moving to a more formidable German side, Bayer Leverkusen, for a club record fee.
Son continued to improve, and endeared himself to the fans and teammates alike for his apparent ambidexterity, and creativity on the pitch. Two years later, Son made his dream move to the English Premier League, signing for Tottenham Hotspur. His £22 million (€30 million) move also made him the most expensive Asian player in history, surpassing Japanese player Hidetoshi Nakata (€25 million) (Fahim).
Many pundits questioned the timing of his move, and were skeptical about whether Son’s skillset would be well served in the physical Premier League (Rooke). At 23 years old, Son decided to leave Bayer Leverkusen, a team who had just qualified for the UEFA Champions League (UCL), for Tottenham, who had previously qualified for the UCL only once before. Although Spurs are a big English club based in London, the club is not known as an English powerhouse, in terms of quality of players and financial resources. Tottenham hadn’t won a trophy since 2008, and were slated to play in the UEFA Europa League that season. Former Leverkusen teammate Hakan Çalhanoğlu publicly asserted that Son made a poor decision that he would regret (Fahim).
Furthermore, there were doubts as to whether Son would be able to handle the physicality of the Premier League and its defenders. Son is 6’0” and a mere 168 lbs., and he isn’t a very physical player either (ESPN FC). Historically, players with a similar body type and tactical style to Son’s, such as Angel Di Maria, have found it difficult to cope with the tactics of the Premier League. Would Son’s versatility and unique ambidexterity be enough to succeed in another foreign country?
Moreover, because Spurs had also broke their club record fee paid in order to sign him, the expectations were immediately high. However, in his first Premier League game, Son scored a beautiful individual goal in the 68th minute, which set up Tottenham’s first home win of the season in the league, and quickly endeared himself to the supporters in the process.
Now in his fourth season at Spurs, Son is hitting heights that some thought he would never reach. Even with the myriad of attacking options for Mauricio Pochettino to choose from, Son has established himself as a regular in the starting XI, and integral to Spurs’ identity as a club. Injuries have really hurt Spurs this season, having to play important games without the likes of stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Most pundits predicted that Tottenham to struggle to maintain their form without their attacking players. However, Son has accepted the challenge and stepped up his level of play, leading the team through example.
One instance in which Son has demonstrated his incredible talent and leadership qualities occurred when Tottenham hosted Newcastle United in February 2019. Spurs in poor form heading into the match, but were in desperate need of a win if they were to stay in the title race with Manchester City and frontrunners Liverpool. A frustrating 0-0 game for much of the afternoon, it appeared as if it was going to be “one of those nights,” in which even though Spurs were dominating the play, it felt like there was a magical force which prevented Tottenham from being able to score. However, in the 83rd minute, when the ball serendipitously fell to Son in the final third, he would make no mistakes. With three defenders draped all over him, initially it did not appear likely that a goal was imminent. However, Son deftly used his body to create some space for himself, and unleashed a rocket of a shot, which beat Dubravka at the far post. With his individual talent on full display, Son immediately ran over to the Tottenham faithful to celebrate with his teammates, and the passion and intensity which emanated from that group hug was palpable.
Tottenham have grown tremendously as a club since the arrival of Son, having secured Champions League qualification in all three of his seasons. In 2016-17, Spurs finished 2nd in the Premier League, their highest finish in the Premier League era. Son has been absolutely integral to this growth, and Tottenham supporters will always have a special place in their hearts for the lively South Korean. So yes, after signing for Tottenham four years ago, the 4-time Asian player of the year has been able to not only succeed on the pitch, but Son Heung-min has also fully been adopted into the Spurs family as well.