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South Korea warn against LVG, AVB rumours

South Korea
 By Jason Dasey

Korean ace Son Heung-min backed by Spurs legend Anderton to succeed

Spurs striker Son Heung Min
Son Heung-min will be hoping to write his name into Tottenham folklore as a Premier League winner this season.

He took South Korea to the brink of Asian Cup glory last year, yet Son Heung-min is still struggling to establish himself at Tottenham Hotspur, left out of this week's international matches so he can concentrate on his club responsibilities.

It denied Asian fans a chance to see the former Bundesliga star, with the Taeguk Warriors hosting Lebanon in an AFC World Cup qualifier on Thursday before a high-profile friendly in Thailand next week.

The omission is effectively a tactical move as South Korea head coach Uli Stielike hopes that by excusing Son from the March internationals, Spurs will consider releasing him for the 2016 Olympic Games, which falls on non-FIFA dates in August.

The 23-year-old remains his nation's most popular player and rivals Swansea midfielder and national captain Ki Sung-yeung as its most accomplished.

Last January, it was Son's stunning injury-time equaliser that forced extra-time in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final against Australia, with his three goals earning him a place in the Team of the Tournament. He has 46 caps since 2010, scoring 16 times.

South Korea striker Son Heung Min
South Korea forward Son made the Team of the Tournament at the 2015 Asian Cup.

But, despite his affable personality and camera-friendly smile, the jury is still out amongst the White Hart Lane faithful about Son's suitability to the Premier League after an injury-interrupted debut season.

Tottenham legend Darren Anderton, who had his own fitness struggles before playing 364 games for Spurs and scoring 51 goals during a 12-year career, believes that Son will eventually come good.

"Spurs should definitely keep him, as he will get better," Anderton told ESPN FC. "He started really well and his energy helped the team. I've also heard that he has become a real favourite in the dressing room and is a great guy to have around."

After being signed late in the August transfer window from Bayer Leverkusen in a £22 million move, Son made an immediate impression, with three goals in as many games in all competitions. But a foot injury, suffered in the 4-1 victory over Manchester City on Sept. 26, ruled him out until November.

Since then, he's struggled to establish himself as a regular starter in the Premier League, with the likes of Erik Lamela, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli all competing for attacking midfield spots.

Former Tottenham winger Darren Anderton
Darren Anderton was a key attacking player for Tottenham and England during the 1990s.

He hasn't started a league match in almost a month, playing just 29 minutes out of a possible 360 in the last four games, although did see regular action as Spurs exited the UEFA Europa League.

For club and country, Son is speedy, skillful and direct, with the ability to beat players. But, officially listed as a forward by Tottenham, questions remain about Son's best position.

Anderton, who played in both wide and central attacking roles during his Spurs career, doesn't see him as a natural backup to prolific striker, Harry Kane.

"His best position is probably just behind a front man, like a free role," Anderton said.

"Sometimes his final ball in the final third of the pitch could be better but that will come with age."

Son came off the bench to score the winner in a 2-1 Premier League victory at Watford on Dec. 28, a result that could prove crucial if Spurs are able to reel in leaders Leicester City to win their first English title since 1961.

Tottenham forward Son Heung Min
National teammates Son and Ki Sung-yueng are flying the South Korean flag high in England.

But he remains stranded on just two Premier League goals in 21 appearances this season, which pales in comparison to his healthier Bundesliga return of 21 in 62 matches for Hamburger SV and Leverkusen.

As ex-Roma starlet Lamela has proven in his transformation from £25.8 million bench warmer two years ago to an integral part of a team pushing for honours, it can take time to find one's feet in the English game.

Since his move to London, Son has scored five times in South Korea's 2018 AFC World Cup qualifying campaign and promises to be one of the football stars of the Rio Olympics.

However, with the men's tournament running from Aug. 3 to 20 just as the 2016-17 Premier League season begins, Tottenham could be less than enthusiastic about letting their prized Asian asset go.

From Son's point of view, he would surely be willing to risk his Spurs' future for the sake of Rio glory, with South Korea taking Olympic football a lot more seriously than most other nations.

In addition to the potential of greater adulation and commercial endorsements, Olympic success would give Son the chance of avoiding a compulsory stint in the army.

All Koreans under the age of 28 are required to serve two years military service -- unless they win a medal at the Olympics or an Asian Games title.

So a Premier League winner's medal and a trinket of any colour in Rio by the end of this summer will see smiling Son quickly forget about his early struggles in North London.

Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.


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