Commerzbank-Arena, October 27, 2010, 62nd Minute - A baby-faced teenager with a giant grin made his way on the pitch as a professional footballer for the first time. 3 days later, the same 18 year-old tore 40 yards into Koln's final third, calmy lofted the ball over an onrushing Miro Varvodic with his right, and slotted the ball into an empty net with his left in one fluid stride. Son Heung Min, Academy graduate, had just become Hamburg SV's youngest goal scorer in its 123 year history.
Having completed a promising debut season, Son stormed the following pre-season with 18 goals in 9 games from various positions, including a sublime Carvalho-skinning winner against Chelsea. Despite a remarkable goal scoring return, first team starts would be hampered by recurring ankle injuries as well as priority given to veterans Mladen Petric and Paolo Guerrero. With the latter two's departures from the team this season, a now 20-year old Son has taken his chances under Thorsten Fink to record 9 goals and 1 assist from 23 games.
Hamburg and South Korea supporters are well aware of the player's incredible work ethic as well as the comical stories of his "control-freak" father that is behind Son's continuing success. Son Wong-Jung, an ferocious ex-footballer himself, lives with his son, instils a strict diet regimen, and conducts long one-on-one training sessions every day after regular club training.
He has already withdrawn his son from the national squad on multiple occasions, knowing what frequent, jet-lagging flights to Asia did to compatriot Ji-Sung Park's health and consequent career. Growing under this level of detail and concern, Heung-Min's maturity beyond his years is no surprise.
Despite the wonderful vote of confidence, consistent starts this season and a respectable goal return in Bundesliga have drawn top suitors. Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United have all inquired, while the player himself remains elusive and tight-lipped over a lucrative contract renewal. Given his skill sets, where is he best suited?
Son stands at over 6ft tall, is very fast on the break, and has excellent technique on both feet honed from inhumane hours of practice. As he is a mobile, versatile forward, he is best suited for a free attacking role just behind the front man, or on inside forward on either wing. He regularly excels at taking defenders one-on-one and firing powerful, far post curlers, and a trained eye for goal places him in great attacking positions. He is not particularly strong or aggressive enough to play upfront alone and ill suited as a target man despite his height.
Furthermore, despite his technical ability and two-footedness, he has proven largely ineffective as a midfielder. Any team that requires a shifty centre forward or an inside-forward capable on either wing would benefit from having the youngster.
Given his skill sets and positional preference, Manchester United seems like the worst fit due to their existing roster of players who can fill both roles easily. The other teams noted all employ top class wide men and are not in particular need of a regular centre forward either.
The only team where Son could realistically eye an immediate regular role is perhaps with Liverpool, where Son could very easily compete with the likes of Sterling, Coutinho, Sturridge, Downing or Borini. As the additions of Sturridge and Coutinho have shown, Liverpool stands to benefit significantly from having a top young forward take the heat off of Suarez. Borussia Dortmund is also a strong potential fit given their in-depth knowledge of his style on top of the fact that he has proven capable of competing with Reus and Gotze already.
The last consideration to be had is for Son to simply stay at Hamburg SV for at least a couple more seasons. There have been so many prospects that move to bigger clubs with bright hopes before falling away. While there are exceptions of course, most suffer a break from their critical development years due to a lack of playing time.
With any player, there is an adjustment period where they have to convince new teammates, possibly learn a new language, and become familiar with a different footballing style or system.
While in many cases, young players move to escape a smaller league, Son is already playing amongst Europe's finest. At the age of 20, it could be said that there is no rush to fly off to a new team when existing surroundings are very much adequate.
At the end of the day, there are chances of success in either case. If Son were to move to teams this summer, it would be best for him to consider his potential for immediate playing time as the crucial factor rather than the club's reputation.
If he were to win a starting spot in a team playing in bigger competitions, it could be a huge boost to his pedigree. On the other hand, it is said that development from 16 to 23 years of age shapes a player's future.
His guaranteed starting birth at Imtech Arena is a safe haven to improve his goal scoring consistency as well as to develop physically, mentally and technically, under genuinely invested club and family coaching. With his first injury-free season coming to a close, on a team where he is comfortable, it wouldn't be unwise for Son to hone his craft further and then move perhaps a couple years down the line as a more complete player.
While the fork shows 2 distinct paths that many successes and failures have trodden, it remains to be seen which way Son will decide to go.
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