Son Heung-Min has just enjoyed his best individual season to date, scoring 21 times in all competitions (his best ever tally), and picking up two Premier League Player of the Month awards (and plenty more handshakes) along the way.
Despite a fairly unremarkable first year in English football, the South Korean really hit form in his second, becoming a key part of Tottenham’s attack and finishing the season as their third highest goalscorer. His skill, drive and versatility made him a tough player to handle, with his direct style troubling defenders throughout the season and his ability to produce spectacular goals from anywhere making him a danger all over the pitch.
Sonny, as he is now known as by teammates, left FC Seoul’s youth academy at just 16 to join Bundesliga side Hamburger SC back in 2008. After spending some time developing in their youth academy, Son spent the 2009-10 season in the reserve side, where he made six appearances, scoring in his third against Hertha Berlin’s reserves. His performances earned him a promotion to the first team, and things looked very promising as he scored 9 in pre-season and signed his first professional contract on his 18th birthday, however he would miss the start of the season after picking up a foot injury.
After two months out, Son returned to the side, scoring in his first game back against FC Cologne. This made him Hamburg’s youngest ever Bundesliga scorer, also earning him an improved contract which would keep him at the club until 2014. Due to numerous injuries at the club, keeping players such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Eric Choupo-Moting and Mladen Petric out of action, Son enjoyed a run in the side, and scored a brace against Hannover 96 just a few weeks later. This meant Son ended his first professional season with three goals in 14 appearances, and his contribution had earned him many plaudits, including comparisons to compatriot Cha Bum-Kun, who scored 98 Bundesliga goals in 308 appearances.
The following season saw a bright start for Sonny, scoring two in his first three games. However it was in his third appearance that he picked up an ankle injury and was set to miss six weeks of action. Despite this initial projection, he returned just three weeks later and went on to play 27 games over the course of the 2011-12 season, scoring five times.
It wasn’t until the 2012-13 season that Sonny truly showed what he was capable of however. The loss of strikers Mladen Petric and Paolo Guerrero in the Summer transfer window saw manager Thorsten Frink put his faith in Heung-Min Son to partner Artjoms Rudņevs up front in a 4-4-2. Son repaid the faith shown in him by his manager by notching 12 goals in 33 games, including 4 goals in his two appearances against Borussia Dortmund.
Son’s movement and pace became a major factor in the side’s playing style, as he linked up with Rudņevs, a centre forward more in the mould of a target man, to create a strike force that other sides struggled to deal with. It was partly due to Son’s form that Hamburg finished 7th after finishing 15th the previous season.
On the 13th of June 2013, Bayer Leverkusen confirmed the signing of Son Heung-Min for a club record of €10 million. It didn’t take long for the South Korean to settle in either, as he scored on his debut against Freiburg, after scoring three in his first three friendly appearances in pre-season. Son’s role at Leverkusen was less clear than at Hamburg. At Hamburg Sonny was mainly used as a supporting striker (mainly in a 4-4-2), however, under Sami Hyypiä at Leverkusen, he was switched between the main striker in a 4-3-3, or a wide forward, often from the left.
Son’s ability to use both feet equally well meant he looked comfortable on the left wing, as he could take on his man down the wing almost aswell as he cut inside, making him unpredictable. This new wide role also meant he had more opportunities to shoot from distance, which was already one of his strengths. He finished his first season at his new club with 12 goals in all competitions, including a hat trick in a 5-3 win over his former club, Hamburg and another goal against Dortmund, as the club finished in 4th place.
The 2013-14 season saw the arrival of Roger Schmidt following Hyypiä’s sacking. Schmidt had a distinctive style, focusing heavily on quick attacking movement and high pressing. Leverkusen’s style was compared to the gegenpressing of Borussia Dortmund, and Heung-Min Son played a big role in this. He had now fully established himself as a wide forward, and despite players like Hakan Calhanoglu and Karim Bellarabi joining the club in the Summer, Sonny maintained his place on the left of a front three.
Sonny flourished in this system, scoring 11 league goals and five Champions League goals. The hard-working nature of Son allowed him to easily adapt to the high press, and the team’s aim to attack and shoot as quickly as possible once they’ve won the ball also matched the style of the wide attacker. With 17 goals and 5 assists, Sonny had just enjoyed his best season yet, finishing as the club’s joint top scorer for the season as they ended up in 4th once more.
Despite only playing under him for a season before his £22 million mover to Spurs, it can be argued that Roger Schmidt had the most influence on Sonny’s style upon his arrival in North London. The pacey, relentless style of Son Heung-Min meant he had all the attributes to become a key player in a Pochettino side, and a season under Schmidt undoubtedly went some way towards preparing him for his next challenge. Although it might have taken him a year or so to adjust to the physical nature of the Premier League, he has certainly found his feet in the league now, and Spurs fans will be hoping he can continue this form for years to come.