Under-rated in England? Son Heung-min has never been that in Asia

Son Heung-min, Tottenham
John Duerden John Duerden

For football fans in South Korea and Asia, it has long been a little strange to see the number of articles in the British media talking about how Son Heung-min being the most under-rated player in the English Premier League. This has not been the issue for fans in the east at all. Closer to home Son has never wanted for plaudits.

Even in his early Bundesliga days with Hamburg, any goal or assist was breathlessly reported and dissected in his homeland and slowly, his fame started to grow. Observers were never shy of predicting great things for the boy from Chuncheon, a city now more famous for being home to the player than its signature spicy chicken dish.

The move to Bayer Leverkusen in 2013 took it up to the next level. Now he was not only playing and scoring in the UEFA Champions League, he was challenging near the top of the Bundesliga and was now playing at the former club of Korean legend Cha Bum-keun who won the UEFA Cup there in 1988.

So when there was a big move to Tottenham in the summer of 2015 for a new Asian transfer record in the summer of 2015, there was no doubt in Korea that Son was more than deserving of a move to one of the bigger teams in the biggest league in the world. The debate was less about whether Son was good enough for Spurs but more about whether Spurs, who were just about to have their first title challenge for some time, were good enough for Son.

Nice one, my son!.

This was not blind faith in one of their own – not totally at least. When Park Chu-young joined Arsenal in August 2011, there was genuine surprise back in Seoul at that move and concern that the striker was not up to the job of making a difference in that corner of North London.

Son was different. All knew he had the talent to become a major star. The one worry was that of consistency. In Germany he developed a tendency to start the season in some style before starting to fade before Christmas. If those early purple patches could be extended past winter then it really would be something special.

That wasn’t the case in his first season with Spurs as it never really got going– despite some flashes of class. So much so that at the end of the first season, there were rumours of the player being quickly sold back to the Bundesliga.

That didn’t happened and Son stayed, played and scored. With injuries to Harry Kane, Son won the hearts of the White Hart Lane faithful with his usual spectacular strikes, match-winning goals, heart-winning smiles and inventive handshakes. He finished with 14 goals in the league and then 21 in the season as a whole.

By the end of the season, Son was a vital part of the squad if not quite an automatic starting member of the team with Spurs having some top-class attacking talent. This year he has really stamped his talent all over the Wembley pitch.

The 25 year-old has been of the best attackers in the English Premier League this season. Tottenham’s domestic campaign has been a little disappointing when set against the standards of the previous two seasons. Son however has been excellent. Even before his recent spell of form, the Korean was looking good.

But six goals in the past eight games has come at a time when the team have not been at their best. And not just that, the goals scored statistic does not tell the full story of how well he has played.

Coach Mauricio Pochettino paid tribute to his Asian star. “Yes, very good. I thought Sonny deserve the praise and that is a good thing to talk about. He deserves a lot of praise and always a smile. Always he’s happy. When he’s not playing, he’s not happy.”

He is happy at the moment. The only cloud on the horizon is his impending military service back home in the next two or three years, an issue that still exists. Apart from that, Son has become an integral part of a team that finished top of a Champions League group containing title-holders Real Madrid and German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund and did not finish top but did so with a game to spare.

It has become a cliche that to ask whether it is possible to have a most under-rated player. By definition it is not but the point is made. Son has now become well-liked, well-respected and well-rated in England.

But Son has never been under-rated in Asia by those who knew him best. All have known how good he is for some years. The rest of the world is merely catching up.