Cartilage Free Captain is once again reviewing each of Spurs' first team players and evaluating their 2015-16 season. The series continues today with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder/forward Son Heung-Min.
Back heel, no-look, nutmeg-the-keeper goals: 1
What went right?
When Son Heung-Min joined Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen last summer for £22m fans who followed the Bundesliga were delighted. They knew the Korean international was a versatile attacker able to play on either wing or up top as a striker if needed. What's more, Son had just come off an outstanding season at Bayer Leverkusen, where he played for Roger Schmidt, a manager whose fanatical high-pressing and fast-paced attacking is in some ways simply a more extreme version of what Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino expects from his team. Add to that the fact that Son was only 22 when he joined Spurs and there was every reason to be extremely optimistic about Tottenham's new attacker.
At his best this season, Son showed signs of living up to those expectations. His first Premier League goal was a game-winner scored on the counter in a frustrating 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. He wouldn't score his second Premier League until December, but what a goal it was: Coming on as a late substitute against Watford, Son broke a 1-1 stalemate with a stunning no-look back heeled goal that nutmegged Watford keeper (and former Spurs starter) Heurelho Gomes.
In many ways, those two goals sum up what Son can be at his best. He has good pace which makes him dangerous on the counter and he's a creative finisher in front of goal. Those are two qualities that are nice to have in a wide attacker, particularly when you play with a lone striker and some of your other attacking players, such as Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, are not particularly prolific goal scorers.
What went wrong?
There are two main critiques that can be made of Son's debut season. The first is that he simply didn't score enough goals in the league. He scored two league goals in the first eight months of the league, before scoring two more in the final three games of the season. That said, this short-coming can likely be chalked up to a combination of adjusting to a new league, not getting consistent playing time, and struggling with injuries.
The second critique, and the one which likely explains the rumors of his departure this summer, is that the drop-off in pressing from Spurs best front four—Kane, Lamela, Eriksen, Alli—to Son (who can backup Kane, Lamela, or Alli) was significant. And this was true for most of the season. Spurs dropped two points at the Emirates last fall after an absolutely masterful opening hour due in no small part to Son's inability to press the ball on the level that Erik Lamela had before being subbed off. This problem never really went away and the halftime substitution of Son on the final day suggests that Pochettino may have seen enough.
If he has given up on Son, it would fit with the pattern we have seen under Pochettino so far. He is exceedingly patient with players who he thinks will work hard enough to play in his system (see Mason, Ryan) but will banish anyone who he thinks will not. If Etienne Capoue were willing to work as hard as Poche demands, he would've been an excellent backup to Dembele and Dier this season instead of a role player at Watford. It's possible that Poche has concluded that Son is never going to be willing to do all the running his system requires and is, therefore, ready to cut him loose after a single season.
Selling Son after only one season, particularly given the good qualities he already has and his young age seems like an over-reaction. If Ryan Mason got a full season as a starter and a second season as a squad player, surely Son should get more than one season as a squad player to convince Pochettino to keep him. It makes more sense to give Son more time and see if he figures out the pressing system, (as both Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen did) and if he can start to score more consistently. Even if he isn't a nailed on starter thanks to the emergence of Lamela and Alli this past season, Spurs will need something like 16-18 first-team caliber players in the squad if they are to balance the demands of the Champions League with another Premier League campaign. From his time at Leverkusen and his high points this season, it seems like Son could be in that group. We'll have to wait and see if Pochettino agrees.
Ranking: Three Chirpys