South Korean forward Son Heung-Min was named AFC Asian International Player of the Year after banging in 23 goals for club and country in 2019. He carried Spurs to the Champions League final and led the line with aplomb while Harry Kane was injured, earning legions of admirers in the process.
Son has maintained his strong form during the 2019/20 campaign and he looks all but certain to win Goal of the Season for an effort against Burnley. The man is a living legend and these are the top five reasons why:
It was fitting that Son scored the first goal in Tottenham’s shiny new £1 billion stadium as they beat Crystal Palace on the opening night in April 2019. His familiar face was beamed around the world and sparked an outpouring of pride in his native South Korea.
That strike will live long in the memory, but Son’s next goal was even more important. The mighty Man City were the visitors for Tottenham’s first ever European game at the new stadium and Pep Guardiola’s men were tipped to secure an emphatic victory. Star striker Harry Kane limped off just after half-time and Spurs looked doomed.
Yet nobody reckoned with the flair, tenacity and versatility of Son, who took over as the team’s main striker and ran City ragged. His diligence paid off in the 78th minute, when he displayed phenomenal balance to keep Christian Eriksen’s ball in play, before shimmying the ball onto his left foot and beating Ederson from 10 yards to hand his team a 1-0 victory.
Son scored twice in a 4-3 defeat in the second leg, a result that saw Tottenham surge through to the Champions League semi-finals by virtue of away goals. They ultimately fell short of European triumph, losing to Liverpool in the final, but Son confirmed his status as a big game player with a great eye for goal.
Spurs fans love Son because he always gives 100% effort in every game. He made his 200th appearance for the club in October 2019 and fans were effusive in their praise, branding him a legend, hailing his work rate and lauding his commitment to the cause.
There is a growing disconnect between supporters of Premier League clubs and the players that represent them. Players are multimillionaires, many are seen as pampered, agents wield a tremendous amount of power and dressing rooms are lost with alarming regularity.
Fans veer towards apoplexy when players fail to display the requisite levels of effort, but that is never a charge you could aim at Son. He bleeds for the cause, tearing around the pitch in a bid to win the ball back or provide teammates with an option.
He always set the tone for the hard-pressing Mauricio Pochettino demanded, and his commitment has never wavered.
Son also looks genuinely distraught when Spurs fail to win, and elated when they succeed. Sometimes his enthusiasm manifests in negative ways – he was handed three red cards in 2019 and missed several games through suspension – and he will need to learn to channel his exuberance in more positive ways, but his enthusiasm is infectious and his work rate makes him an inspiration to many.
A National Hero
Fans of the South Korea national team are also blown away by Son’s determination and work rate. “He’s Korea’s best player of all time,” said one supporter in a CNN feature on Son. “Park Ji-Sung was good but Son is at a different level. He works so hard, he scores goals, and he always gives 100%. He is a living example of what I have always said: that hard work will always beat talent.”
Son has scored 26 goals in 87 games for his country, helping them win gold at the 2018 Asian Games and impressing at two World Cups. He was made captain of South Korea due to his strong leadership skills and he is likely to hold the role for many more years.
He had the bravery to leave Asia and move to Germany aged just 16, always under the watchful eye of his disciplinarian father. Son Woong-jung was a professional footballer before injury curtailed his career in 1990, and he focused all his efforts on turning Son into a superstar.
The move to Europe paid dividends as he established himself as one of the best players in the Bundesliga and then took the Premier League by storm, and he remains a legend in Asia. He is treated like a rock star in South Korea, where he often has to wear a baseball cap and sunglasses to stop him from being mobbed.
Fans praised the leadership he displayed in that Asian Games triumph – a victory that left the team exempt from military service – and they praised his subsequent attitude in interviews, in which he said he would for a four-week soldier’s training course in future.
He donated £100,000 to relief efforts after South Korea was hit with its worst forest fire on record last year. “I think it’s something I should do when there’s a big disaster in my home country,” said Son. “I believe money does not matter. The most important thing is a mind to do something for the victims.”
He is a great role model for youngsters in South Korea and he is a full-blown national icon nowadays. He adorns billboards and has bars named after him and serves as a hero to many Koreans.
Son is by no means a natural centre-forward, as he is most effectively used on the flanks. Yet he has displayed great versatility by stepping into the central role during the increasingly frequent injuries Kane has suffered over the past couple of seasons.
The England captain is now out for several months and that has derailed Tottenham’s bid for a top-four place in the Premier League. Check out the exciting prices found here and you will see that Spurs are now massive underdogs to seize a Champions League place.
They will be heavily reliant on Son to help them upset those odds and lead them back into the top four. New manager Jose Mourinho has poured doubt on Son’s ability to lead the line for Spurs, arguing that he is not a target man, but that could simply be mind games from the Portuguese coach as he piles pressure on Daniel Levy to dust off the chequebook.
Son has excelled for Tottenham during Kane’s previous injuries and he is perfectly capable of replicating that form in the second half of the current campaign. His versatility is one of the main reasons for the legendary status he now enjoys.
Son turned 27 in July and he is now entering the prime of his career. He has been on a strong upward curve in recent years and he has developed into a very complete player. Yet it is easy to imagine him hitting new heights over the next few years thanks to his sheer dedication to the game.
He is a brilliant athlete, blessed with fantastic pace and stamina, so he should be able to thrive at the top level for at least another six years, if not more. Cristiano Ronaldo is still scoring hat-tricks for Juventus at the age of 34, which highlights the sort of longevity that forwards can enjoy if they take care of their bodies and retain the hunger to succeed.
Son is not at the same level as Ronaldo – who is widely considered to be the greatest player of all time – but he has a similar attitude towards training and diet. He maintains a healthy diet and avoids the sort of temptations that dent the potential of his peers, so he has a great chance of maintaining his upward curve and clinching plenty of silverware in the years ahead.