Despite his Dynamism, Son Heung-min still has Plenty to Prove at Tottenham


It’s an interesting time to be a wide man at Tottenham. Between guys like Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Clinton N’Jie, there certainly isn’t a shortage of options. Throw in the soon-to-be confirmed Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and there’s something of a logjam developing on the flanks.

The acquisition of N’Koudou is particularly interesting, as he seems to be a player designed to solve the problems that Spurs attempted to solve last season. Ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, the Mauricio Pochettino-coached Tottenham brought in Son and N’Jie in order to give them some electricity out wide, but due to a combination of form and fitness concerns, neither man really fired. And with news of N’Koudou’s arrival seemingly imminent, it’s hard to know what exactly Pochettino plans to do with the two players.

There must be a temptation to keep the duo, as both were high-price recruits who might just need a little longer to adapt to the rigours of English football. But despite that, rumours in the press seem to suggest that Pochettino is far from sold on them. There have been reports that N’Jie has been offered to Marseille on loan, the club from which Tottenham hope to buy N’Koudou, and, in the wake of Spurs’ final-day 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Newcastle in last season’s English Premier League, there were murmurings that the Argentine coach wanted to move Son onto another club.

The case of Son is particularly intriguing, as in contrast to N’Jie, who had less experience at the highest level, the South Korean appeared to be more of a sure thing. Tottenham shelled out £22 million in order to acquire him from Bayer Leverkusen, and after hitting double-figures for goals in three separate Bundesliga seasons, the then 23-year-old attacker looked like he was ready to make an immediate impact in England.

There’s a lot to like about him, too. Son plays with a real speed and directness, and from his station on the flank, he likes to drive towards goal, either by running with the ball or breaking in behind the opposition defence. German legend Franz Beckenbauer talked about this approach during the South Korean’s time in Germany, saying “I really like the way he plays – fast and dynamic.”

He uses that boldness chiefly to get into goalscoring positions, and due to his two-footedness, there is a level of unpredictability to his play in the final third. He can either cut inside and shoot, as many a modern player chooses to do, or he can beat his man to the outside. And as an excellent finisher on either foot, Son can score not only from either side of his body but also from both sides of the field.

By way of example, you only need to look at his two EPL strikes against Chelsea and Crystal Palace. In relation to the former, Son made an infield run from the right-hand side before doing what he does best: sprinting in behind the opposition backline, steadying himself and burying the ball in the back of the net. On this occasion, he only needed to make use of his preferred right boot, but against Crystal Palace, the situation wasn’t so simple.

This time, he found himself running towards goal on the left-hand side. He had Brede Hangeland for company, but his searing pace, in combination with a quick shift of the ball to the outside, allowed him to fashion a chance to shoot. The South Korean quickly punched the ball towards the target with his ostensibly weaker left foot, generating so much power that Palace keeper Alex McCarthy couldn’t respond to the goal-bound effort.

This, in a nutshell, is Son: a quick, dynamic player who drives towards goal and shoots with power from either side of his body. Upon signing for Tottenham, the South Korea international summed up this style pretty well. “I’ve trained with both feet so I can use them freely,” he said, before adding that he likes to play in a manner that could be described as both “bold and daring.”

Add in a thunderous long shot, and Tottenham clearly liked him at the time of purchase. He wasn’t the complete player, as despite a comfort in contributing to a short-passing game, he lacked a little in terms of creativity. But that wasn’t what they bought him for. They wanted a direct attacking weapon, and in Son, they thought they had one.

Fast forward to now, and Spurs are looking at N’Koudou to do that job. He’s a similar type of player to Son, a jet-heeled wide man who can score with either foot. He’s still a bit raw and lacks the experience of his South Korean counterpart, but Pochettino clearly feels that he can add quality to Tottenham’s squad.

In general terms, this, as well as a couple of other factors, won’t make it easy for Son to fight his way back into the starting line-up. The former Hamburg player may have started brightly in his first campaign for Spurs, but when he missed a few matches with a foot injury over October, Tottenham stumbled upon a formula that would ultimately reduce him, by and large, to the role of squad player. Then, of course, there’s the fact that Son will miss a large part of pre-season as he prepares to play for South Korea at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. That will lessen his opportunity to show Pochettino what he can do, and there’s also a real chance that he could miss a few games at the start of the season, too.

Son could have used that time to reassert himself within the Tottenham squad, to prove that he’s worth the £22 million the club spent on him. That isn’t to say he won’t be up for the challenge, however. Son overcame his early problems adapting to life in Germany, which related to language and loneliness, to establish himself as a genuine star in the Bundesliga, and it’s clear that he wants to do the same in England. “My first season in the Premier League didn’t meet my expectations, but I had a good experience,” he stated. “For my first season, I played with the thought that I should learn many things here.”

That hunger to learn should serve him well when he returns from his Olympic stint with the national team. He still has plenty left to prove to Pochettino, but as a player who seems a good fit for the Tottenham frontline, there is every chance he can outpoint the likes of N’Koudou to force his way back into the Argentine’s calculations. After all, he’s the most expensive Asian player of all time for a reason, and next season should give him the chance to find some more consistent production in the Premier League.