Last weekend Hamburg's Heungmin Son reduced the universally-feared cauldron that is Borussia Dortmund’s home stadium to stunned silence after netting a brace to help defeat the defending Bundesliga champions. It was the latest feat from the Korea Republic international, who has been making waves in Germany's top flight recently and earning himself a place in the hearts of his club's fans. The striker, it seems, is finally coming of age.
With that in mind it is hard to believe that Son, a superstar in the making in Germany’s top tier, does not yet have the same leading role for his country as he does for his club. “I’m still young and have a lot to learn,” said the 20-year-old, who is coveted by a host of Europe’s top sides. “The coach decides when he thinks it’s right to play me.” Judging by his latest displays, it is surely just a matter of time before Kanghee Choi makes him the national side's focal point too.
Hamburg coach Thorsten Fink needs no further convincing and Sonny is now a key component of the team’s starting 11. “I’ve worked hard together with my coach,” Son said. “He’s given me a lot of tips. It’s great that he’s put his trust in me and is allowing me to play.”
The forward has already repaid a portion of that faith with his goals, scoring nine so far this term, just one behind fellow forward Artjoms Rudnevs. Together they form the most dangerous strike partnership Hamburg have produced in years, with both among the Bundesliga’s top ten scorers this season. In so doing, the duo are following in the footsteps of club legends Uwe Seeler and Horst Hrubesch.
So impressive are Son’s performances that they have earned him praise from Korea Republic’s national hero, Cha Bumkun. “I met him at the Asian Cup two years ago,” Son explained. “He’s the superstar in my country and everyone knows who he is. He told me he thought it was good that I was playing so well in the Bundesliga and that I should keep doing what I'm doing.”
Yet the striker also finds inspiration much closer to home, as one of his footballing idols also happens to be a team-mate. “Rafael van der Vaart is a great role model for me and it’s a dream to play in the same side as him. He’s a fantastic player and I respect him a lot,” Son said.
The youngster is keen to keep improving and views one player in particular as a yardstick. “Cristiano Ronaldo has brilliant technique and is very dangerous in front of goal,” the striker said of the FIFA World Player of the Year 2008. “I love watching him play and try to learn certain things from him.”
Brazil 2014 motivation
In just under 500 days the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ gets underway and Son is eager to fulfil a childhood dream at the tournament. “The World Cup in Brazil is my main aim and my hope. I’ve still got a little over a year to keep improving in order to represent my country there.”
Towards the end of 2012, Son had a taste of things to come in the South American nation when Hamburg travelled there for the inauguration of Gremio's stadium in Porto Alegre. “The atmosphere at the ground, the weather and the way people breathe football was impressive. I’ll give everything to be able to play there,” Son said.
Wary of opposition
In Group A of the Asian Zone qualifiers, the Taeguk Warriors currently trail leaders Uzbekistan by a solitary point, albeit with a game in hand. Nevertheless, the striker is aware of the perils of complacency. “The other countries have developed well in the last few years. Even if Lebanon or Uzbekistan are almost unheard of here in Europe, they're very good and we can’t take them for granted.”
One team in particular has caught the nine-time international’s attention. “I think Iran can still get better. They’ve got a lot quality, especially with internationally experienced players like [Ashkan] Dejagah and [Ali] Karimi. On the other hand I think Uzbekistan may falter a little.”
Son believes he and his compatriots are well-equipped to deal with the business end of the qualifying rounds. “We still have three home games to play and with our fans behind us we want to win every game. That’s why I’m confident and have the belief that we’ll get through in the end.”
Given Son's recent goalscoring exploits, it is no wonder he finds himself increasingly in the spotlight. And as an upcoming star, he is already considering a suitable goal celebration. “Scoring a goal is just a fantastic feeling. At the moment my family are helping me think of something, but it’s not easy because it should be something I can identify with, as well as being special and unique.”
For now we will have to wait and see what the Son family come up with. Once they settle on an idea, however, we can be sure to see it not only in some of Europe’s biggest stadiums when the forward finds the net, but also re-enacted countless times on playgrounds and parks the world over. And who knows, maybe even at Brazil 2014.