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Pochettino hails Son Heung-Min, Tottenham’s under-the-radar star

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Harry Kane gets the headlines, but Tottenham knows what they have in the “David Beckham of Asia.”

Burnley v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

It must be difficult on some level to play on a team with Harry Kane. Not just the best striker in England, but possibly in all of Europe, Kane is a home-grown hero, bags goals for fun, and tends to overshadow even his talented teammates.

Perhaps lost to the shadows in this way is Son Heung-Min, Asia’s best player and Spurs’ second highest scorer with 9 goals in all competitions (to Kane’s 24). He’s treated like a rock star in his native Korea, where he enjoys a level of fame similar to that of David Beckham in England.

And yet, he’s decidedly second fiddle on a Spurs side that features not only Kane, but a host of talented, young English players like Dele Alli and Eric Dier. (It’s been said that Asian football fans are none too enamored of Pochettino after he seemed to favor Son as a bench rotation option for much of last season.)

Despite that, everything seems to be going well for Sonny as he quietly establishes himself as one of the most underrated players in England. Sonny scored 21 goals for Tottenham in 2016-17, while playing in a variety of positions for Spurs: primarily on the wing, but on occasion at striker as a rotation option for Kane, and even once or twice at left back as needs must.

It’s that versatility, his ability to torment Premier League defenses, and above all his attitude that endears him to Mauricio Pochettino, who waxed eloquent about Son to journalist David Hytner in the Guardian.

“It’s true that Son doesn’t get the headlines of Harry Kane and other players. It’s like a player that is next to Messi or Ronaldo who deserves a lot of credit. When you are next to Harry Kane, who scores and scores, it is normal that the focus is more on him – or on Messi or Ronaldo – than Son.

“But it is good to recognise him. He is a great guy and a very good professional. He is always there and he scores a lot of goals. He was very important for us last season. All of his team-mates love him not only because of his performances but also because of how he is as a man.”

For most of last season, Sonny seemed to be second choice, resigned to a substitute or rotation role as Mauricio Pochettino played a back three formation that seeming left him out of the side. Even so, Son was a prolific scoerer. This season, Son has integrated himself into the starting 11 more often, but even in rotation he has been omnipresent in Mauricio Pochettino’s side. He has scored four of his six league goals this season in the past six games, and has started eight of Spurs’ last ten Premier League matches.

In fact, his play has made it so that it’s been difficult to keep him out of the starting lineup. Kane has been on fire lately, but if he should hit a rough patch of form or get injured, it is Son who is likely to be called upon to pick up the scoring responsibilities. Dele Alli has recently rediscovered his touch, but he’s still not where he was last season. Backup striker signing Fernando Llorente has shown nowhere near the ability to bang in goals the way he did last season at Swansea. Even Christian Eriksen, for all his ability, is unlikely to duplicate the scoring output of Kane.

It’s that ability to score goals, either poacher’s efforts or worldies from distance, that has endeared him to Pochettino. He’s a kind of player who is flexible, and who can slot into a variety of positions as needed, and do a job.

“But I am happy with people like Son, who is not a specialist. He is not a striker but he can play like a striker. He is not a winger but he can play on the wing. And he is not a No. 10, who plays in the pockets, but he can play there. That is the good thing in the squad.”

He’s the best player in Asia, but he’s still flying under the radar at his own club. That must be a challenge for a player like Son, but he seems to be taking it in stride, even as he plays well without a whole lot of recognition. That’s okay. Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur know what they have in Son Heung-Min, and it sounds like they wouldn’t trade him for anything.