By Peter Rutherford
SEOUL, June 7 (Reuters) - Son Heung-min could turn out to be South Korea's next soccer icon and, like his predecessor Park Ji-sung, has never played club football on home soil.
Son, 21, left Seoul's Dongbuk High School as a 16-year-old to join Hamburg SV's youth academy and has flourished in the Bundesliga.
The forward moved to Bayer Leverkusen for a fee of 10 million euros ($13.46 million) last year and scored a hat-trick against his former club in early November.
Son has yet to fully replicate his club form with the national team, but under new coach Hong Myung-bo he is imposing himself more and delivered his best performance in a Korean shirt in a 2-1 win over Switzerland in Seoul late last year.
He also impressed in a 2-0 win over Greece in Athens in March, putting the gloss on the surprise victory with a superbly taken goal early in the second half that snuffed out any hopes of a comeback by the home side.
Son's pace and trickery make him a handful for full-backs. He has also been used centrally behind the main striker in recent games and could form a dynamic partnership with towering target man Kim Shin-wook if Hong opts for two up front.
Part of a growing contingent of Koreans in German football, Son looks completely comfortable on the European stage and has rarely looked out of his depth with the national team since winning his first cap in 2010.
He opted not to play with the 2012 Olympic team in London in order to concentrate on developing his club career in Germany, and that decision does not appear to have rubbed coach Hong up the wrong way.
Hong, who steered Korea to the bronze medal in London, believes the risk of throwing the youngster into the white-hot heat of the World Cup is balanced by Son's blossoming potential. (Editing by Tony Jimenez and Mike Collett)
- Sports & Recreation
- Son Heung-min
- South Korea
- Bayer Leverkusen
- Hong Myung-bo