South Korean striker Son is Messi and Ronaldo in one | National sports

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — When Son Heung-min fell clutching his face in a recent Champions League game, the pain wasn’t limited to the Tottenham striker’s fractured eye socket .

The shockwaves were felt in his native South Korea, where the nation collectively feared the worst ahead of the World Cup.

His son is his country’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo rolled into one. He is a huge source of national pride – having established himself as one of the world’s leading football players – and Qatar’s greatest hope for success.

His injury in the match against Marseille was big news at home, with one publication describing it as “Korea’s big emergency”.

Tottenham later confirmed that Son would need surgery, but no timeframe was set for his recovery. If he is to play a part in the World Cup, which starts on November 20, it seems certain he will need a protective mask.

It’s a blow for a player who, at 30, is in his prime to enter the tournament.

Last season, Son shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Liverpool striker Mo Salah as top scorers. He hasn’t been as prolific this season but there have still been some highlights, including a hat-trick against Leicester in September and two goals against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Qatar was an opportunity for him to reach new heights.

Son is a player who is constantly setting new benchmarks – ever since he first traveled to Europe to join Hamburg’s academy in Germany in 2008. Marcell Jansen is now the club’s president, but at the time, he was a teammate and followed the striker’s first steps. .

“I was immediately impressed with his mentality and his attitude,” Jansen told The Associated Press. “He was always working extra shifts with his dad so he was training twice as hard as everyone else.”

There is a common theme when people talk about the qualities of Son. His strength of character and determination are often mentioned, but it was his game-changing talent that made him stand out as one of the best strikers in the sport.

His supreme balance, two footing, pace and finishing make him an all round attacking force that complimented Harry Kane so well at Tottenham.

“Rarely have I seen a player who shoots as well with his left foot as with his right foot, unbelievable,” Jansen said.

Jonas Boldt has made a career out of finding talent as a scout and sporting director for Bayer Leverkusen and now head of sports at Hamburg. He was at Leverkusen when the club signed Son from Hamburg for $8.7 million in 2013. By then the secret was out about the talent of the players in Germany, if not further afield.

“In terms of the game, his strengths are definitely in his short, quick movements and his finishing strength. Those skills set him apart,” Boldt told the AP. “He was a talented footballer, no doubt. But his excellent mind and iron will are the attributes that made him even better at all levels and made him this top player.

“Heung-min is a player who has proven himself time and time again at a higher level and has adapted. On top of that, with Tottenham he moved to a club that had a clear idea with him and a coach (Mauricio Pochettino) who didn’t wrap him in cotton wool, but challenged him a lot. And again, the great character of Heung-min came into play.

Son’s father, Woong-jung, is a former professional soccer player and has been a guiding force in his career. He watched his son during training when he moved to Germany.

While the eldest son has been instrumental, it seems to have been his entrenchment in the German league, which has established itself as a wealthy talent developer – most recently in the form of Erling Haaland at Borussia Dortmund before the transfer from the Norwegian to Manchester City. .

Back in South Korea, Son’s fame is such that his endorsements range from banking and razors to instant noodles and cars. Every Tottenham match is broadcast live and an image of his face appears in the top corner to allow viewers to quickly determine whether he is playing or not.

But that level of fame has not been replicated in England, despite Son being one of the best players in the Premier League.

“For me, it’s perfectly clear: Heung-min is not a player who constantly seeks the limelight and attention,” Brandt said. “If you look at award ceremonies these days, like the Golden Boot, players’ self-marketing comes into play and plays a role. Maybe Heung-min doesn’t attach much importance to it. , seems a little more timid.

South Korean fans will be desperate to see this image of Son’s face in the corner of their TV screens during the World Cup. But even if an injury prevents him from giving his best in Qatar, Jansen is convinced that he still has a lot to do.

“The World Cup is a great step for Sonny to represent himself and his country,” Jansen said. “But whatever the World Cup, I’m sure Sonny will have as long a career as Messi or Ronaldo because he’s an incredibly fit player who lives for sport.

“I expect him to go down in history as one of his country’s greatest footballers.”


AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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