22 Midfielder Bayer Leverkusen South Korea
2014 has been...
A picture-perfect step up in class for Son Heung-Min. Bayer Leverkusen’s attacking midfielder has progressed superbly in 2014 and has now crossed the threshold beyond which observers don’t classify you as a good prospect anymore, just as good. And Son is really very good.
The World Cup could have been the crowning moment of Son’s year but it was the one big disappointment. Both he and his South Korea team were a little under-par, his brightest moment a goal against Algeria which showed off his balance and accomplished finishing at what might have proved a vital moment. 3-0 down at half time, South Korea got their goal early in the second half but Algeria scored next and the game was done.
Son played for FC Seoul before finishing his youth career with Hamburger SV in Germany. He played for the Hamburg first team between 2010 and 2013 before moving to Bayer Leverkusen in June 2013, signing a five-year deal and being given some fairly hefty boots to fill.
If 2013 was eventful, Son’s 2014 can best be described as lively. It began in January with the 2013 award for South Korean Footballer of the Year and will be remembered by South Korea’s gossip-lovers as the year Son transcended football and became a celebrity. His short-lived romance with K-Pop starlet Min-ah (you know, the one from Girls Day) ended after the beginning of this season but Son’s move into the rarefied air of the showbiz pages hasn’t distracted him a jot.
The short version? He’s some player. Here’s the longer version.
Son is fantastic on the ball and very good at creating space for himself. His first touch, like his general ball control, is superb. He’s an elegant creator with a wonderful imagination and the ability to cruise past a player on the strength of his considerable wits with a minimum of fuss.
He shoots well and loves a low effort from the edge of the penalty area, resulting in some fabulous goals from distance this season. He provides opportunities for others, perhaps best exemplified by his delightful little nutmeg as Leverkusen took just seven seconds to take the lead against Borussia Dortmund in August, breaking the Bundesliga fastest goal record in the process.
Thanks to his long strides Son is faster than he looks once he gets going, and he shows lovely movement off the ball. Positionally he’s at his best when roaming around behind Stefan Kiessling, which takes him from left to right and back again, and enables him to make dangerous runs ahead of the front man to add to his growing tally of goals. He moves well in the box too.
The best compliment we can pay Son this year is that he’s continued to improve apace even with upheaval in the Leverkusen dugout. Sami Hyypia departed in the spring, leaving Sascha Lewandowski in sole charge until the end of last season, and Lewandowski has since been replaced by former Red Bull Salzburg coach Roger Schmidt, who’s overseen Son’s latest positive developments.
His decision-making is better than it was in 2013 and he’s growing into an increasingly free role within the Leverkusen attack. He looks better in the air too, and is generally maturing into a fine attacking midfielder with the very highest level within his reach even at 22.
Son has arguably grown into the challenge of becoming Leverkusen’s main man even with good players around him. He scored the goal against Werder Bremen that secured Leverkusen’s qualification for this season’s Champions League and scored twice in their 2-1 win over Zenit in November. He’s stepped up in a big way to fill the shoes of Andre Schuerrle; he influences games, scores goals and creates for others.
He is, though, prone to having a quiet game on occasion. They’re already less frequent this season, during which he has most often been absolutely top-notch, and they weren’t all that common before. One slight knock to his goalscoring opportunities has been the arrival of Hakan Calhanoglu from his former club, Hamburg, this summer. Good luck taking free kicks now, hombre!
Son’s international career has been rattling along at a fair old rate for some time now. He has over 30 caps for South Korea and is already the team’s most important player by a distance. At home he is a superstar, the great hope, an icon in the making.
With that in mind, where 2015 sees many players in this list in need of a move or a change or international opportunities it should be about stability and consolidation for Son. His influence in the national team will have to continue to expand over the years because he’s streets ahead of his team-mates creatively, but that will evolve with time.
As for domestic football, he couldn’t really be in a much better place. Leverkusen are in the Champions League and he has three-and-a-half years left on his contract. Schmidt’s record with Salzburg reflects his ability to coach young players well and it’s already showing in Son’s form and development.
There’s no reason at all for him to be tempted away and little sign that it’s even crossed his mind. Son and Leverkusen will progress together next year and they’ll both be the better for it.
"New coach Roger Schmidt is exactly what Son needed. He has been fantastic this season and one of the most exciting attacking players in the league." - Cristian Nyari
"Son has scored 15 goals and assisted another six in the Bundesliga since the start of last season. Only Stefan Kiessling has been involved in more (22)." - OptaJoe
B Tremendous progress this year
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