This is the second feature in a two-part blog that focuses on Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung-min Son. While the first article analysed Son’s performances for Tottenham over the past couple of seasons, this analysis aims to provide a better understanding of why the forward may have been in-demand in the first place.
It is of course easy to say now but looking back, Son is an excellent example of a successful transfer. His performances alone do more than enough to demonstrate this, but when considering the player's age, the fact that he's already shown he can settle in another league and country, his skillset flourishing under Mauricio Pochettino's tactical guidance and the patience shown by Tottenham (and the player himself) during the player's first season at the club, it seems more than an ideal fit.
We know that recruiting the right player is extremely difficult, and using data is often just one piece of the pie. A progressive recruitment strategy will be one that constantly evaluates its own processes as well as the performances of the player in question.
Minutes at a young age
Across multiple competitions and cultures within professional football, we know that there is value in identifying the players who are on the field at a young age. Not only does this demonstrate talent and ability, but it also suggests that the player is trusted by their manager.
Son began his Bundesliga career at 18 and from that point he played an above average number of minutes compared to other players at similar ages.
Providing a bit more context, we can better understand the role that Son played during his time at Hamburg and Leverkusen. Was he a regular starter or more of a bench player coming on and making an impact?
Son’s third season in Germany was the springboard for him becoming a regular starter and an influential member of the team. What else is noticeable from the graphic is just how little time the forward spent out injured or was not been selected throughout his time in the Bundesliga.
What Son does when he's on the pitch
Establishing that Son has been a regular since a young age provides a solid foundation and justification to explore the player in further detail. The graphic below applies basic data that outlines Son’s attacking contributions in his five seasons in Germany.
Son’s first season in Germany saw plenty of shots, perhaps a result of being used more frequently as a substitute and arriving late in games when there tends to be more space and scoring opportunities (this excellent article from Colin Trainor on StatsBomb provides further insight into sub effects and players who arrive later in matches).
Perhaps coinciding with securing more starts for Hamburg and Leverkusen, Son’s creative output has increased as he has got older and gained experience.
Playing within a particular formation
While Son primarily occupies the left hand side for Tottenham, he's certainly not the traditional 'paint on his boots' winger and is very much part of a fluid attacking side.
These touchmaps from Son's five seasons in Germany provide further insight around how the player’s role has evolved over multiple seasons. We begin by focusing on his time at HSV.
In 2010/11 Son had a variety of roles, which is shown in the fairly messy touch map. He was used mainly on the left, sharing the role with Eljero Elia. He was also used up front at times too, alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy. We also know from the visualisations above that Son's first season was often spent entering matches from the bench, which would again perhaps suggest the reason for no 'set position' during this season.
In 2011/12 Son got minutes more as a second striker and on the right wing as he pushed for a regular starting position. In his final season in Hamburg Son played on the right in a 4-5-1 while also spending some time up front towards the end of the season.
There is of course more to Son's game than securing playing time and being able to play in multiple positions, but this analysis provides an initial insight into the early phases of Son Heung-min's career.
Having firmly estabilshed himself in Tottenham Hotspur's starting line-up, Son's performances - both in Germany and in the Premier League - have led him to become a key player for Mauricio Pochettino.