Son Heung-Min came to Tottenham Hotspur at the close of 2015 summer transfer window with a lot of promise. A £22m signing from Bayer Leverkusen, he generated a lot of excitement amongst the Tottenham fan base. A Korean international and a Bundesliga star, he hit the ground running, scoring a brace against Qarabag in the Europa League in September and following that up with his first league goal against Crystal Palace three days later.
But soon after, Sonny sustained a foot injury that kept him on the sidelines for a month and a half, and he says that injury, combined with the difficulty in adjusting to a new culture and language in England, hindered his development as a player this season.
“I think it’s harder than what I thought. Everyone in the world talks about the English Premier League. It’s not easy but I play with my body and I can feel how important it is to get 100 per cent fit to play. This is an important thing to play in the Premier League.
“This season I think [I’ve been] a little bit unlucky. I started well, got injured and then getting fit took a long time. I’m still getting [back to] 100 per cent. But I’m very happy because I enjoyed this year in Tottenham."
Son has slotted directly into the starting lineup with the suspension to Dele Alli, but the issues he references with fitness are obvious. In both matches he was subbed off around the 65th minute after decent performances. In both matches, Spurs were worse on the pitch for his absence. Sonny has scored in each of the past two league matches, but Tottenham have only gotten one point out of six available.
“It’s difficult. Two goals in two games is not bad, but I’m still disappointed with the two games because against Chelsea we drew and we played very well, and on Sunday we lost,” said Son. “I’m a little bit happy but also disappointed as I think bigger.
“It’s not finished - we have a very important last game – but still, I have learned some things in English football. This is the first year for me but still I’ve enjoyed the year with Tottenham. In my first season we played for the title - this was unbelievable for me. Still I have to learn some things."
It's incredibly difficult to adapt to a new league in a new culture, especially the Premier League which is known for its supremely fast pace. While some Tottenham fans have been somewhat disappointed with Sonny's performances this season considering his promise coming in, he's shown glimpses of the dynamic attacking player that he was for Bayer. Mauricio Pochettino has seemed to recognize both his talent and his post-injury limitations: the second half of the season, Son has been reduced to a rotation starter in Europe or an impact substitute in the league
In some ways, Sonny's career trajectory at Tottenham has mirrored that of Erik Lamela. Both came in as expensive attacking prospects burdened by their high transfer fees, both also struggled at times with adapting to English life and language, and both dealt with injury concerns in their first years. It took Lamela a good three years to fully adapt to England and to find his place on the team. Son has apparently already found friends (witness his budding bromance with Austrian defender Kevin Wimmer) and is well liked at the club, and while he's still dealing with fitness, there isn't the same sense that he's unhappy or unsettled as there was at times with Lamela.
There's a chance that Sonny could feature for Korea in this summer's Olympics, though it hasn't yet been decided if he'll be allowed to go. Either with a summer of Olympic football or a full preseason of training at Tottenham, it doesn't seem strange to suggest that we might see a completely different and fully acclimated Son Heung-Min next season. If you're a Spurs fan, that's pretty exciting.