By 90Min
November 21, 2017

In a game increasingly driven by statistics, underrated players are usually those whose contributions cannot be measured by numbers alone. It is therefore surprising that one of the most underrated players in the Premier League right now is not just a hard-worker or a precision passer, but a key cog in one of the division’s most potent attacking forces. 

Son Heung-min joined Tottenham in 2015 from Bayer Leverkusen, full of promise but relatively unknown outside of Germany and his native South Korea. 29 goals in 87 appearances at Leverkusen was an admirable tally, building on his breakthrough season with Hamburger SV in 2012-13.

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He commanded a £22m fee when he joined Spurs, making him the most expensive Asian footballer ever - so clearly Mauricio Pochettino had seen something in Son that he could develop into a top-class player. But whatever it was, it did not seem to be in evidence during Son's first season at the club.

Son made 40 appearances in all competitions that year, but scored just eight goals; three of which came against poor opposition in the Europa League. Those who saw Son play spoke of a player with pace and skill, but lacking a talent for decision-making or composure in the final third.

Son’s transformation from a talented under-performer to a key man was as sudden as it was impressive. In his first four league games of 2016-17, after returning from the Olympic Games, Son scored four goals and provided two assists. He also bagged a Champions League winner in Moscow, prompting Pochettino to describe the Korean as being "on fire". And that was just the start. 

He scored 21 goals in all competitions last year. This included scoring in four consecutive league games in April, while he scored a first Tottenham hat-trick in an FA Cup demolition of Millwall. He also became the first Asian player to surpass 20 goals in a season in English football. It seemed that the South Korean could do no wrong, and yet still the plaudits did not come.

The problem was that Son was sharing a stage with Harry Kane and Dele Alli, two of the Premier League's brightest stars and - more importantly, as far as the media is concerned - both English. You can't blame the media for hyping up the two. In an age where England are so devoid of creative, entertaining young players, here you had two men who fit that exact description, proving that they could play together. 

With all the attention on those two, Son’s contributions were frequently forgotten. For example: in Tottenham's penultimate game of last season, they won 6-1 at Leicester City, and Son reached that magical twenty-goal mark with a brilliant brace. Unfortunately for him, Kane chose the same game to score four, and Son's contribution was all-but forgotten.

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All goals are created equal, but some are more equal than others, and Son has developed something of a habit for howitzers. 

From a low, rasping drive against Watford back in April to a pearler against Millwall to a classy double at Middlesbrough, Son has proven time and again that he is not a one-trick pony. The brace at the Riverside was arguably his proudest moment in a Spurs shirt, as he came to the fore in the absence of the injured Harry Kane. He was the difference in a tight game. 

Son's critics might argue that he needs to be making his presence felt in tighter games more often, and not without justification. Without Son's 14 league goals last season, Spurs would only have been four points worse off. His harshest critics might call him a flat-track bully, with many of his goals coming against smaller teams in one-sided matches. 

His goals this season suggest he might be turning a corner though. He has scored against two big opponents in Dortmund and Liverpool, and also provided the one moment of magic that gave Spurs victory over Crystal Palace last week - again in the absence of Kane. To those who still criticise the South Korean, heed this advice: give it time. 

Son has consistently improved under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, and there is no reason to think that he will not continue to do so. He may never have the goalscoring prowess of Kane, or the raw attacking power of Alli, or the technical ability of Eriksen, but there is not one team in the Premier League who wouldn't benefit from a player like Son Heung-min.

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