ซน ฮึง-มิน: 'ยอดมนุษย์, นักเตะชั้นนำ' และชาวเอเชียคนแรกที่ยิงถึง 100 ประตูในพรีเมียร์ลีก
Son Heung-min is arguably Asian football’s first global superstar – and he is now the continent’s first player to hit 100 goals in the Premier League.
“He always finds it easy to laugh and talk with people. He tries to motivate everyone. When the dressing room is sad for some reason, he’s always there to make you smile again,” said former team-mate and close friend Moussa Sissoko.
“Sometimes you come in after training, or after a game, when you’ve had a bad moment, and to have someone like him is very important. Sonny is this type of player. If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you the same. He’s a top man, a top player, a top human being.”
A steely determination lies behind that winning smile. His father was a professional footballer too and his influence has shaped the 30-year-old’s career.
Self-critical and dedicated to improving his craft, becoming the first Asian player to reach the 100-goal milestone in the English top flight is a huge achievement and a piece of history.
Such accolades haven’t come easily. When Son arrived in England, he needed a period of adjustment. Even as Tottenham challenged Leicester City for the title in his first season, before a late collapse saw them drop to third, he was in and out of the team, making just 13 league starts.
“It takes time to settle into the Premier League, as everybody knows, because it’s a lot more physical,” said Harry Winks, who is currently on loan at Sampdoria. “You can see over the years how much he’s matured physically – how strong and powerful he is. That’s just credit to his work in the gym and on the pitch.”
Sissoko joined Spurs a year after Son and was also struck by his dedication.
“He’s always the first to arrive at the training ground. He’s very focused on his job. He goes to the gym and does his own stuff before meeting up with all the squad,” said the France midfielder.
“He tries to improve himself, the players next to him, and the team as well. You can see during the game, he’s always energetic. He’s a winner and he always has that desire inside him.”
After a slow start, Son became indispensable to Mauricio Pochettino’s side. His reputation grew as the goals flowed, helping them consistently qualify for the Champions League, even reaching the final in 2019, by playing a brand of high-intensity attacking football that thrilled supporters.
In vital moments, Spurs now rely on him to deliver.
“No matter what the scoreline is, or how the game’s going, you just need one chance to fall to Sonny,” said Winks. “He’s clinical in front of goal, with his left foot and his right foot. His technical ability and his finishing is absolutely exceptional.
“He’s a phenomenal dribbler. It’s his speed driving with the ball, his close control, his touch – it’s everything.
“There are lots of players who are quick without the ball, but very few who are almost as quick with it, as you can see from that excellent goal he scored against Burnley.”
That sublime solo effort, the centrepiece of a 5-0 win, was even honoured with the Puskas Award. Son gained possession on the edge of his own box and assessed his options. Finding no passes available, he elected to run with the ball instead, gathering pace as he approached the halfway line. Gaps opened up so he powered on alone, skipping away from two challenges and calmly slotting the ball past Nick Pope at the end of a remarkable 70-yard dribble.
While that goal showcased his electrifying individual ability, Son is a team player above all else. He works hard to close down the opposition and win the ball back. When Spurs have it, he’s always willing to run in behind, stretching the play and creating space for his team-mates – especially Harry Kane.
Son’s understanding with Kane has been finely honed, creating one of the deadliest partnerships in world football. Intelligent and intuitive players, they’re well-versed at reading each other’s movements and seem to link up almost effortlessly on the pitch. Together, they have combined for a record 43 Premier League goals, more than any other duo.
“They’ve spent seven years together. They know each other,” explained Sissoko. “They’ve been training together, and trying to understand each other, for a long time so it becomes easier in the game. Sonny knows what H is thinking, and it’s the same for H. That’s why it works. I’m very happy for them.”
Kane has traditionally taken more of the plaudits as a homegrown hero and the England captain. Always highly valued by his team-mates and managers, Son was occasionally underappreciated by a wider audience, but his exploits last season forced everyone to take notice. A brace on the final day ensured he shared the Golden Boot with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
“We were playing Norwich away and we were dominating the game,” recalled Winks. “We were creating lots of chances, and players were scoring here and there, but everybody just wanted Sonny to score. You could see by the celebrations that everybody was so happy for him. He fully deserved it because he was outstanding.”
Last season was the most prolific of his career as he scored a remarkable 18 of his 23 league goals in the second half of matches. Son’s stamina and composure came to the fore late on in games, enabling him to take advantage of tired defences and make several telling contributions.
“I think he’s become more clinical and more ruthless with his finishing,” added the Spurs academy graduate. “The most important thing for Sonny is goals and assists. If the team wins but he doesn’t get a goal or an assist, he’s happy for the team, but he’s not happy with himself. It’s just that elite mentality he has.”
Even the best defences struggle to contain him. Notably, Son has scored against the rest of the big six multiple times, and always troubles Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City with his pace and clever movement. He boasts an impressive record of seven goals and three assists in 13 meetings with them across all competitions.
Although Son has fallen short of his own high standards in the current campaign so far, he’ll be keen to make amends and ensure Tottenham at least once again qualify for the Champions League. For all his personal success, trophies continue to prove elusive.
Determination is one of Son’s defining characteristics. Sissoko expects him to respond to disappointment about the World Cup and his own indifferent form the way he always does – by reflecting on what went wrong and redoubling his efforts.
“At the start of this season, he wasn’t at his best, and you could see on his face that he wasn’t happy, but he’s someone who never gives up,” he said.
“He got frustrated when he was on the bench when they played Leicester at home, then he came on and scored a hat-trick. To do that, you need to have a big personality and be strong in your head.”
This attitude, combined with extraordinary work ethic and ability, has taken him to the very top. Some players can lose sight of other people and aspects of life in a single-minded pursuit of success, but Son remains hugely popular at Spurs for his joyful and considerate character. More than his world-class talents, it’s what team-mates respect most.
“Before the football, the first thing you think of is how much of a nice and genuinely down-to-earth person he is,” said Winks. “He’s very bubbly, very funny. He likes to have a joke. He treats everybody the same, whether they’re from the academy or they’re a new signing. He makes everyone feel welcome and at home. That’s why he’s such a big and influential character in the dressing room.
“What he’s done at Tottenham is fantastic and he’ll certainly go down as a hero and a legend at the club, and rightly so. Every player will know how excellent he is but maybe sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves from outside.”
- Our coverage of Tottenham Hotspur is bigger and better than ever before – here’s everything you need to know to make sure you never miss a moment