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scouting

Time to Move On: What's Next For Son Heung-min?

Following another disappointment with Tottenham Hotspur as they fell at the final hurdle to Manchester City in the EFL Cup final, has the time come for Son Heung-min to acquaint himself in new surroundings?  It seems he has reached a juncture in his career where change is needed and a new challenge could be just the formula to take himself in another direction.  Recent news reports worldwide have placed him with several "future" clubs but reality is a long way yet from unfolding.  KLU's Branko Belan examines the possibilities for South Korea's standout men's player and how it could also impact his role with the national team.
(Photo courtesy of The Korea Herald)


A Fantastically Skilled Player

Son Heung-min was always highly touted as a player going back to the earliest days of his career.  Scouts regarded him as a versatile player who could play anywhere across the front third.  He himself stated once that he didn't have a particularly favorite position and that he would play wherever a manager would insert him into the lineup.  He has never been a natural winger, and considering how much he loves to cut in to create space for his left foot, it would seem that playing him on the right in a front three would be the best option for him as opposed to playing on the left where he would have to do a lot more running, even if he has the tank for it.

He has long been widely regarded as a master with the ball at his feet but a player whose finishing ability earlier in his career needed polish and he wasn't much of an aerial threat.

A lot of that has certainly changed to this point in his career, as he has secured a personal best fifteen goals for Tottenham Hotspur this season and he does indeed look more of a natural finisher in the past few years.  His Puskas Award-winning goal against Burnley in 2019 is a perfect example of all the elements not only contained in his game but refined since he became a senior professional back in 2010-11.

For all his quality as a player, there has been one thing sincerely lacking to amplify his credibility - titles.  He may be considered one of the best players in European football today who has yet to put a trophy on his mantle.  Is it time for a change?

Another Heartbreak With Spurs

Tottenham's loss to Manchester City in the EFL Cup final was particularly hard on Son, who broke down in tears at the final whistle.  Many contend he didn't have his best match but that is another indicator of Tottenham's inability to perform on a big stage.  In fairness, Spurs are not on the same level as some of the biggest clubs in the world, City being one of them having now paved their way to the Champions League final to face fellow EPL rivals Chelsea and it looks questionable at best if they will be there within the next few years.

Son Heung-min is consoled following Tottenham's EFL Cup final loss against Manchester City.  Photo courtesy of South China Morning Post.
This is not a standard for Son to aspire to; second best just isn't good enough for him anymore.  He deserves to be at a club where he has a chance at silverware on a regular basis.


The Mourinho Effect

The arrival of José Mourinho at Spurs in 2019 presented the club with their best chance to finally add another trophy.  Son became an entirely different player under the Portuguese manager and Spurs a much more competitive team as well.  The attacking bravado in their play took to another level and Tottenham was again a team the rest of the Premier League had to take notice of.

With his recent sacking, there is now quite a bit of speculation as to how Son will decide his future.  The two were particularly close, giving rise to speculation that the five-time Korean Footballer of the Year will be elsewhere in the near future.  

There are a slew of theories as to why Mourinho was let go but in the end, it comes down to the fact that Spurs were not getting the results they needed to stay in contention for the Champions League.  The media had tried to create a narrative that he had somehow lost the players but that likely is not entirely true.  It's no secret he was against the proposed European Super League, prompting some to come to the conclusion that he was let go on that pretense.

Son counts Mourinho as one of the best managers he has ever played for.  Photo courtesy of The Korea Times.
Whatever the case may be, Son was one of the first to speak out after Mourinho's departure, saying how much it had been a pleasure to work with him and that he was sorry that things didn't work out, adding that he was grateful for the time they had spent together and wished him the best for his future.

There is no question that the impact Mourinho has had on Son is immense.  Does he want to stay after his manager met such a bad ending? 


Where to Next?

The Case for a Return to the German Bundesliga

A return to the Bundesliga would not be out of the question if Son does in fact choose to make a switch over the summer.  He began his playing career with Hamburger SV where he spent three seasons with the senior side after a brief stint with the second team.  In all, he amassed twenty goals and five assists in 73 appearances for the club, prompting a move to Bayer Leverkusen ahead of the 2013-14 season.  There he would spend two full campaigns, netting 29 goals in 85 matches.

Son in Der Klassiker?

If it were to happen that Son made a return to the league where he began his career, there would be two likely destinations - Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.  It would be fitting to see him in Der Klassiker, certainly, one of the greatest derby matches in Europe, playing alongside the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Mats Hummels, Erling Haaland, and Jadon Sancho (if the latter two plan on staying).

It's an intriguing prospect and one that has been explored in recent days across various media outlets.  Son has been starved of trophies to this point in his career, so if one takes that into account, then the logical choice would be Bayern.  Bayern Munich is the sort of club a player like Son needs to play for if he wants to take his career to the next level.  Bayern have that championship pedigree; that disciplined approach that makes footballers into champions and many would say that is exactly what Son needs at this stage - a club to toughen him up and make a winner out of him and Bayern would definitely be a great fit in that regard.  Would they be willing to make the move?

There is also the case for a move to Dortmund but it could fizzle out if both Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland move on elsewhere in the summer transfer window.  Sancho's price tag has been lowered by the club in recent days but there is no guarantee that Haaland will be making a move unless a bigger club is willing to open up the coffers to bring him in.

Coaching Moves at Germany's Two Biggest Clubs

Both Bayern and Dortmund will look a bit different when the new season rolls around.  There is the possibility of player movement during the summer transfer window but even more importantly, both clubs will have new managers heading into the 2021-22 campaign.

Julian Nagelsmann will take the reins at Bayern Munich for the upcoming season.  Photo courtesy of DW.com.
Recently, it was announced that Julian Nagelsmann has been appointed the new manager of Der FCB and will assume his duties on July 1st, after Hansi Flick has his contract terminated by mutual agreement on June 30th.  Flick is regarded as the next man to take charge of the German national team following Joachim Löw's final run at EURO this summer.

Nagelsmann had a great run of success as the top man at RB Leipzig, becoming the youngest coach in UEFA Champions League history to win a knockout tie against Spurs last March in the process.  He followed up that success with a quarter-final victory over two legs against Atletico Madrid, thus guiding the club to the semi-finals for the first time in their history.

Marco Rose will be the new man in charge at Borussia Dortmund once interim manager Edin Terzić moves on.  Rose has managed Borussia Mönchengladbach.  He reached the knockout stages with the club this year but lost out to finalists Manchester City.

Marco Rose is set to lead Borussia Dortmund for the upcoming season.  Photo courtesy of DW.com
He prides his coaching style on being active on the ball and pressing towards goal, which is suitable to Son's playing style and his strengths as an attacker. 

For Son, the choice would be a difficult one to make but depending on how things play out in the summer transfer window, both clubs could be an option. 

Juventus in Serie A?

If Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Manchester United, would Son be a piece the Old Dame would like to consider?  With Inter Milan winning Serie A recently for the first time in eleven years and putting a stop to Juventus' nine consecutive years at the top of Italian football, it seems more of a possibility.

Cristiano Ronaldo is rumored to be moving back to Manchester United in the summer transfer window.  Photo courtesy of Juvefc.com
Both Ronaldo and Son play in the same position and the Korean could be seen as an answer to that conundrum.  There is no questioning Son's ability and Juventus still have high quality and high class players who could improve his game and vice versa.  It's an interesting prospect in view but time will tell how things develop in the near future.


Searching to Create His Legacy

In recent years, many have labeled Son as the greatest Korean footballer to have played the game, which is, of course, a compliment of the highest order.

But, at 28 years old, he lacks something on his resume - silverware at club level.

By comparison, one Park Ji-sung, formerly of Manchester United and PSV Eindhoven enjoyed incredible success with both clubs by that stage in his career.  Two Eredivisie titles, a KNVB Cup, and a Johan Cruyff Shield earned him a transfer to Manchester United where he would go on to win a plethora of trophies with the Red Devils.

His contribution to the national team also cannot be understated, as he was a huge part of the 2002 World Cup side under Guus Hiddink which reached the semi-finals, the best result South Korea has achieved on the international stage in its football history.

Park Ji-sung celebrating his Champions League success with Manchester United.  Photo courtesy of Goal.com
At the same age, he had banked three Premier League titles, two Football League Cups, one UEFA Champions League, and one Club World Cup.

Both are similar in style but Park's resume speaks for itself.

Other names also come to mind, such as the legendary Cha Bum-kun, a two-time UEFA Cup winner regarded as one of, and perhaps the greatest footballer the country has ever produced.  Son has a ways to go to reach those heights but to do that, he needs to be at a club with a championship mentality.

Could Playing for a Championship Caliber Club Re-define His Role With the National Team?

South Korea have not looked convincing in their current World Cup qualifying campaign thus far.  With qualifiers resuming in June and with South Korea as a central venue, it should give them a distinct advantage.

His record with the national team has left much to be desired and that needs to change sooner rather than later.  He deserves more.  South Korea deserves more.  Success at the senior level is the answer to that.  A move to a bigger club would facilitate that process.

Son Heung-min is crucial to South Korea's Qatar 2022 hopes.  Photo courtesy of FIFA.com.
He understands the pressure of playing for the national team and likely accepts that much criticism will be put his way but he is a professional and will guide the squad to where they need to be.

Making a move to a championship club will only amplify that.  It is the last piece of the puzzle for him to take the next step in his career.  

Is a return to the Bundesliga on the cards?  Where should he land next?  

He certainly cannot stay at Tottenham as hard as it is to say.  He is deserving of trophies and should move to a club that will provide him that opportunity.  He is too talented to be remembered years down the line as a caliber player without honors.

The question remains.  Will he move on, or will he stay loyal to Spurs?



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