Is Son Heung-min Asia’s Best Footballer?

South Korean footballer Son Heung-Min (source: HUPU)

He got the ball inside his own half, sprinted 70 meters, passing through eight defenders, and finally, scoring a remarkable goal. For South Korean footballer Son Heung-Min, his performance for Tottenham Hotspurs this past weekend was more than extraordinary.

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho commented on Son’s performance in the game against Burnley: “Sonaldo. Sonaldo Nazario.” Referencing the Brazilian football legend Ronaldo, Mourinho truly recognized the significant contribution that Son Heung-Min delivered to the team.

The 27-year-old South Korean football star was named as the 2019 AFC Asian International Player of the Year on Dec. 8th. Before entering the game against Burnley, Son received his trophy from South Korean national team legend and former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung.

After securing a 5-0 victory, the Tottenham Hotspurs climbed into 7th place in the English Premier League.

The fantastic goal from Son attracted huge attention from football fans around the world, and for fans in China, the feeling of witnessing the goal might be complicated. While many applauded the South Korean star for his achievements and performances at the top-level in Europe, many others started to reflect on the lack of talent in the Chinese football team.

Since joining Tottenham, Son Heung-Min has been regarded as the best football player from Asia. Following the path of former Manchester United player Park Ji-Sung, Son is also viewed as an example of the South Korean football program’s success. The two-time Asian Cup winners have been able to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals for nine consecutive editions, dating back to 1986.

On the contrary, China qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals only once in 2002, and suffered three losses in the group stage. China’s performances in the current World Cup qualification tournament for the 2022 Qatar World Cup are rather disappointing. After losing to Syria, former World Cup champion Marcello Lippi announced his decision to resign as the head coach of the Chinese national team.

China has made various efforts to improve the national team’s performances to qualify for the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The Chinese Football Association approved several naturalization applications from foreign-born football players. However, despite having players such as Elkeson, Nico Yennaris, and John Hou Saeter, the naturalization programs have yet to make any significant progress in China’s international competitions.

The success of Son Heung-Min is a major factor undermining China’s naturalization program. With little effort in naturalizing foreign-born players, South Korea performed well in games against other Asian countries and have been regarded as one of the best teams in Asia. It makes football fans think about the effectiveness of the policy: If a native-born player can achieve so much success in football, why not spend more resources in youth training, talent development, and focus on the potential star players in China?

Several former members of the Chinese national team spoke against the naturalization policies, including former team captain Fan Zhiyi who argued that the Chinese authorities should offer Chinese coaches more opportunities and ‘naturalization of foreign players will never happen in his era’. Previously, we also covered the story on Hao Haidong and his critical views on naturalization policies.

SEE ALSO: Chinese Football Legend Slams CFA for Naturalizing Football Players

Will China be able to deliver a star player of Son Heung-Min’s caliber anytime soon? It is going to be a hard path for sure. The lack of talent development programs and the lack of youth talents at various age groups reveal a larger problem that the officials from Chinese Football Association need to solve. Clearly there are a large number of young students interested in playing football. The question is, will there be a path for them to become outstanding players in the future?