Leverkusen welcomes a new Son
By Ross Dunbar
“With his open nature, Sonny is the face of HSV and our organisation,” admits Hamburg Chairman Carl E. Jarchow, back in 2012. Commercially, and on the park, the South Korean international was the ‘Poster Boy’ of the club and commanded promising opinions of his playing qualities, and his reputation.
Particularly for a club like Hamburg SV, boasting a great pedigree in Europe and supported by a far-stretching fanbase in Germany. Whilst the title-winning impact of Shinji Kagawa gripped the Japanese audience, and moreover, created a ripple-effect across Germany, Hamburg – a club who traditionally have explored nearby Denmark for rich talent – opened the door to South Korea, nurturing the country’s brightest talent since Park Ji-Sung.
"Son is broadcast in every news issue in South Korea." His local baker, another native South Korean, told ZDF. “Son was an important player for HSV,” says new sporting director, Oliver Kreuzer, who has the unenviable task of rebuilding the club’s playing resources, burdened by the challenging financial climate. "One should, however, always see ahead to the sporting value of the player’s economic component for the club."
Without wanting to create an unnecessary situation between club and player, Hamburg hoped to come to a decision with Son’s advisors this summer. It was simple: renew his contract, or sell. “Of course it is a pity that Heung-Min Son leaves, but we have always stressed that he must either extend the contract or change club.” added Jarchow.
October 2010, 18-years-old, with an already burgeoning reputation, the South Korean took just 26 minutes to become Hamburg’s youngest-ever goalscorer in the Bundesliga. It was against 1.FC Köln, breaking the offside trap, clearing over the on-rushing goalkeeper and with ice-cool conviction, sliding into an empty net. Yet, it was expected for many who had tracked his progress since arriving in Germany as a 16-year-old.
Two years earlier, Son was one of three teenagers who became part of the Hamburg B-Youth side, as part of an innovative partnership with the South Korean Football Association. His compatriots Kim Min-Hyeok and Kim Jong-Pil, had little success in their short stay in Germany, returning to South Korea within a few months.
“Similar projects were already in other countries, but the HSV is the first club in Germany to start this form of cooperation,” former sporting director Dietmar Beiersdorfer said. Despite almost falling to the same fate as his countrymen, Son’s work-rate, commitment to extra sessions away from training and his desire to improve, not just his playing ability, but his command of German, impressed his coaches. He was awarded his first professional contract at the age of 18 in 2010.
Son’s accomplished dribbling with both feet meant his role in the side varied under Armin Veh, and respective successors. The appointment of Thorsten Fink as head coach cemented the South Korean’s place as a wide-forward in adaptable 4-2-3-1 formation and also founded an understanding with first-choice forward Artjoms Rudnevs.
It was reflected in his goal return in the Bundesliga, 12 goals, his personal best for Hamburg and lighting the fire for their late European push. Early in the campaign, he struck a double in their 3-2 win over Borussia Dortmund; striking again twice against the 2011 and 2012 champions in a 4-1 win at Signal Iduna Park.
Quick, direct and potent in-front of goal, Son’s striking instinct, playing on the shoulder of Marcel Schmelzer, Hamburg raided Dortmund on several methodical counter-attacks completed at dynamite effect. Four of his goals last season came at the end of a counter-offensive – only Vedad Ibisevic of Stuttgart completed more successful breaks – and has a scoring conversion rate of nearly 60%.
That, according to Bayer Leverkusen’s sporting director Rudi Völler, makes him a suitable replacement for Chelsea’s new signing-Andre Schurrle. “Son fits in our requirements as a young, still very viable professional with international standards. He can realise his potential at Bayer,” and Völler continued, “Heung Min Son is exactly the type of player we were looking for our young team. He is fast, agile, technically strong and has shot. He will help us to achieve our goals.”
The 20-year-old agreed a five-year-deal with Leverkusen and switches to the Rhineland for €10m. A dent for Kreuzer in his first week as Hamburg’s top-man following the departure of Frank Arnesen in May, but a significant boost for Bayer, who qualified in third-place for the Champions League spot this coming season.
Adding to the fledging stature of the Bundesliga in South Korea, Leverkusen’s venture into the Champions League will only improve the club’s commercial prospects in the region, as a direct occurrence of the €10m investment in the forward.
There’s still plenty of extremely raw potential – but Son could one of the shrewdest signings of the summer, as a footballer, and expanding his own personal brand at the BayArena. And as one player leaves the club, another has arrived.
This piece was written by Ross Dunbar, a Senior Writer for the AFR Team. Comments below please.
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