Heung Min Son is yet another impressive Asian talent plying his trade in the Bundesliga. The young Korean has impressed with his performances and has quickly adapted to the European game, cementing a first team berth. The rest of Europe has stopped and taken notice as well with the rumour mills overflowing with Son links.
It took a while to figure out what ‘format’ his name is written in. I was finally recommended by various people that Heung Min Son is the way to go. Son Heung-Min is the Korean version with the family name first. The former is generally accepted by football fans in non-Asian circles and the Bundesliga.
Heung Min Son was a product of the famed FC Seoul academy. The same club that had talented footballers like current Arsenal man Park Chu Young; ex-Spurs, PSV and Dortmund man Lee Young Pyo and former Zenit left back Kim Dong Jin. He left for Europe fairly early into his career, compared to other footballers. But the temptation of joining Bundesliga’s unofficial Far Eastern recruitment program was too good to turn down. He dropped out of his education and moved to Hamburg at the age of 16, getting a professional contract in just over a year. He etched his name into Hamburg history books when he scored against FC Cologne, becoming the youngest Hamburg player to do so, a record previously held by Hamburg’s legendary full-back Manfred Kaltz. He grabbed a brace against Hannover to take his season’s tally to 3 for the 2010/11 season.
The Korean rose to prominence in the summer of 2011. He had an incredible pre-season scoring 18 goals in 9 games. This included a goal against Bayern Munich, 5 goals against Ziletral of Austria and 4 against a local Police Selection side of the Norderstedt region of Hamburg. An injury kept him out for the start of the campaign but he scored on his return and went on to score 4 more in the season, include goals against Hannover and Cologne again. He was still a teenager at the time.
Now 20, his real breakthrough into the first team came this season (2012/13) following the sale of the likes of Petrić to Fulham and Guerrero to Corinthians. This left Hamburg with only Marcus Berg and Heung Min Son as the recognised strikers. Rudņevs was also signed and the former FC Seoul youngster found himself to be an important part of Thorsten Fink’s plans.
His father is a an ex-Korean player and manager of the national team. Heung has a commendable 12 caps under his belt, despite being only 20. His only International goal came against India in the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.
This article was scheduled to be written earlier in the season when Heung grabbed a brace against Dortmund at the Imtech Arena including a cracking left footed strike. Over 4 months later the youngster did the exact same thing at the Signal Iduna Park, so it seemed fitting to finally get this through. These two games against the defending champions are arguably the highlights of Son’s short career so far. So far in the 2012/13 campaign, no one has scored more goals against Borussia Dortmund that Son.
Like many other of our Scout Reports, Heung Min Son too has featured in ‘The 100 list compiled by In Bed with Maradona. You can see that terrific list here.
Style, Strengths and Weaknesses
Although it would be difficult to describe Son in one word, many would allude to his versatility, but that would over-look his all-round game. Versatile players are often good in multiple positions but not particular quality in one. Heung can play across the final third with immense comfort and ease, at the top of his game. He most famously said this:
“I don’t care where I play. The main thing is I’m in the game. I can play right, left, as a forward or behind it. What the coach says, I’ll do. I don’t have a favorite position. I’ll be anywhere and always on the throttle.”
This perfectly sums up Heung Min Son. Standing at over 6 feet tall with a good instinct as to where the goal is, he is adept at playing as a centre forward. One could criticise his presence in the box which often affects his composure. He prefers to play a bit deeper where he gets to see more of the ball. Hamburg manager Fink has preferred playing the Korean international on the right side of the front three, favouring Latvian striker Rudņevs through the middle.
Even when playing wide he is always looking to cut in. He cannot be labelled as a ‘natural winger’ as he isn’t willing to run down the flanks much. Given an opportunity, whether inside or outside the box, he looks to cut inside to his favourable left foot. Credit should be given here to Fink for realising that Heung’s left foot can be better used to get goals down the right rather than crosses down the left. Playing him down the left would force him to play more as a winger and restricting his obvious goal scoring ability.
While he may lack a bit of composure in the box, Son is an artist with the ball at his feet. Blessed with incredible technique (which is rare for Asian players), his quick feet and dribbling ability make it impossible at times to realise that he is a 20-year-old youngster from Korea. He could so easily pass off for a South American. His ball control is immense. This part of his game sets him apart from the rest. Asians often struggle in Europe as they aren’t technically sound, or physically strong. And Son does lack a bit in strength, but he more than makes it up with his technical ability.
Many of his goals have been scored as a result of his impressive energy and burst of speed. It’s a sudden increase in pace that makes him difficult to defend against. He gets the ball quickly from the half way line into the box ensuring that defenders have little time to get into position. He has enough confidence to end his runs with a strong shot, showcasing his shooting ability. Played wider and allowed to drop deeper, Son has adopted long shots into his game. He is not shy to go for goal from outside the box, and this is evident in his strikes against Dortmund- cutting onto his left foot and letting rip!
Son is more than happy to contribute defensively as well. He chases opponents down to regain possession. As he showed most recently against Dortmund, he is willing to sit with the midfield in his own half to break the opponents down without being tempted to break forward. So far in the Bundesliga this season, he has gone into 19 tackling duels, coming out on top in each of them. He has the discipline and intelligence to stick to his duty. For a young 20-year-old, living in a completely different culture and timezone, he is adapted quickly and is incredibly calm and mature.
One piece of criticism that can be thrown his way is his inability to win headers. Despite his fairly impressive height, he only managed to win 34 of his 90 headed duels (a success rate of 38%).
Heung has an average pass completion rate of 77% which is a decent return for an attacking player. Earlier in the season against Augsburg, he scored with his only shot and also completed all of his 31 passes (100%!).
Heung Min Son has been linked with some of the top clubs in Europe in the recent past. The most notable suitors have been Premier League sides- Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Son was hot property leading up to the January window. He has remained at Hamburg but one has to question for how long? Given his growth and maturity, there will be more clubs looking to sign this talented youngster.
Often when Asian players are spoken about, the commercial windfall for the European club from the player’s home country gets mentioned. Suggestions are that certain players are signed purely for generating revenue from across the globe. While this may not be completely untrue, with Heung Min Son, it’s certainly not the primary reason to sign him. His ability and skill is such that he can match any emerging talent.
A personal opinion about Son’s transfer situation, despite being linked to clubs from other leagues, England in particular, I can see the player remaining in Germany. However, Hamburg have their work cut out to hold onto their star talent. A move to another Bundesliga side is not completely out of the question.
–Asian football remains fairly underdeveloped both at the International and Domestic stage. The Far East stands as Asia’s breeding ground for stars of tomorrow, followed rather unequally by the Middle East. The players that have come through haven’t set the football world alight. Asians have performed average at best in European Leagues with Park Ji Sung and Nakamura being the perfect role models. Heung Min Son is of a different standard. He stands as a benchmark for young Asian players coming through and indeed those in the Bundesliga. The striker could certainly prove to be the best Asian player of the current generation. The signs are there to see.
UPDATE: Heung Min Son’s move to Leverkusen was confirmed on 13th June, 2013.
Original featured image via talksport.co.uk