Son Heung-min: a mini stats look

With Takeuchi’s comments that Son Heung-min was forcing his shots and being selfish against Saudi Arabia, I decided to take a little look at Son Heung-min from a statistical standpoint. Before you read on, some disclaimers (so don’t complain about them in the comments). First, the numbers are based on three-year periods (usually the last three) for the players’ domestic league campaigns. This was to keep it as consistent as possible in terms of the stakes/nature of play/opposition. Second, I readily acknowledge that the there are many other factors not being included in this ‘analysis’, but I think it is adequate in getting a rough picture idea. My end result, doesn’t really say much about the Saudi game, but I thought it was interesting and decided to share. That being said, read on dear reader!

I suppose I should mention who I compared in this mini-analysis. 10 players in total. Son Heung-min, his Korean goalscoring predecessor Park Chu-young (from 4-6 years ago when he was actually good), and eight of the world’s best in Son’s rough position (forwards who tend to operate from midfield positions): Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Gareth Bale, Neymar, and Eden Hazard.

Get on your shootin’ boots!
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Testing the keeper!
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Let’s take a look at the first three categories together. As a whole they can give an idea of A) how well the player gets into attacking positions (shots), B) their attacking instincts (pass or shoot), and C) their ability to get the shot on target. Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo tops all three categories with Messi close behind in second. Suarez is third in both shots taken and shots on goal, but his accuracy is much lower. Son Heung-min checks in at 8th in both shots taken and shots on goal, but slightly worryingly his accuracy is the lowest of the 10 players at a hair under 40%. During his heyday with Monaco, Park Chu-young took the least number of shots. I suspect this is probably due to the fact that of the 10 players, Park is the most conventional forward of the group, and is the least able to create his own shot (a problem he has nowadays).

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These two categories broadly look at how many shots it takes for the player to actually score. If you don’t understand the number, the first one shows how many goals are scored per shot taken (or shot on goal taken). If that makes little sense to you, take a look at the number in parenthesis. That number shows how many shots the player takes to score a goal. In essence, these two categories measures the players’ finishing ability.

Again, unsurprisingly, Messi tops both of these categories. What may surprise a bit is just (statistically speaking) how good Neymar’s finishing is, just a hair behind his Barca teammate. Also it’s notable that Hazard also displays good numbers in terms of his ability to convert shots into goals. It’s also slightly surprising (to me at least) how low Suarez comes in these categories.

As far as Son goes, while his placement is similar in both (8th and 7th), it’s worth noting how different his shots per goal and shots on target per goal vary. Son needs about seven shots to score a goal, but only 2-3 on target shots to score. This makes sense when you remember that of the 10 players Son had the lowest shooting accuracy, and you consider where he takes many of his shots (from distance). We’ll come back to this a bit later when wrapping up on Son.

Goal machines
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A fairly obvious category. How many goals do they score over 90 minutes? Ronaldo and Messi again run away with things. Ronaldo’s phenomenal current year (2014-15) sees him scoring 1.32 goals every 90 minutes, with Messi close behind. Neymar, Bale, Robben, and Suarez all check in with solid figures. Then you come to the bottom group of Ribery, Son, Hazard, and Park.

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I wasn’t initially going to include this category, but decided to because of the final category. Again, this one is fairly obvious in what it shows. How many assists do they give every 90 minutes. Ribery jumps to number 1 by a bit followed by Messi. Ronaldo, slightly surprisingly, is number 3 and virtually even with Messi in terms of their La Liga assist numbers. Son and Park are down at the bottom.

Attack Value
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The final category attempts to show, per 90 minutes, how much does the player contribute to goals scored (by themselves or a teammate – essentially goals scored and assists per 90). Ronaldo and Messi are, as everyone knows, up at the top in a class on their own. Neymar, Bale, Ribery, Robben, and Suarez all contribute quite a bit to their teams. Then at the bottom you find Hazard, Son, and Park.

General Conclusions

It’s important to remember that individually these numbers are virtually meaningless. You must consider them in their entirety along with the circumstances each player finds himself in at his club. While statistical metrics are useful tools, they are just that – tools. They show you some aspects, but not all.

Son Heung-min Conclusions

If I had to say it simply, I’d probably say something that most Son-watchers already know. He’s a talented player, but one that still has a fair bit of growing to do if he wants to truly enter the realm of great attackers in world football. The numbers paint a picture (to me) of a player who can finish, but is often let down by poor shot selection.

Son Heung-min by the numbers
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The other number that stands out is Son’s lack of assists, basically one every 10 games, a fairly poor number for an attacking midfielder/wing forward.

It’s these two aspects put together that I suspect frustrates Korea fans. *side disclaimer – I realize these numbers are for Son while with Hamburg/Bayer Leverkusen. I suspect that Son’s Korea NT numbers would have a slightly higher number of shots taken and similar assists. Such data for Korea NT are not available which is why it was not calculated.* When Son does choose to shoot his shots are, to use a basketball phrase, ‘low percentage chances’. That combined with the fact that Son rarely provides assists mean that while he can ‘threaten’ he doesn’t actually contribute anything ‘tangible’ in terms of results. That’s something the other world-class players do, they either score or provide assists (or both). Granted, Son is just 22 and he still has a ways to go, but he’ll either need to start scoring at a more consistent rate or add more assists to his game if he’s to take that next step.

About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. Literally everyone is all over SHM as “Korea’s player to watch” but he’s so streaky it’s extremely frustrating, and it’s actually been a while since he’s put in a convincing shift for the NT
    So what if he scores fantastic goals once in a while? He has a LOT of work to do, and if you ask me the REAL player to watch is Nam, Ki, and LCY.
    Hopefully by the time he’s 25 he can be as consistent as Ki

    • You must’ve missed my mini-twitter rant where I complained about that very thing. The only really good performance I can remember from Son for KNT is his 1st half against Paraguay (I think). The rest he has those moments where he skips by a defender or gets off a powerful shot, but for the most part he drifts out of the game.

      My player to watch is Nam (assuming he plays). Son may get the goals at the end, but if he does it’s because Nam is creating and opening space for him in the middle.

      • what/when do y’all think was the turning point for nam in his progression? he definitely seems to have turned a small corner in his development at some point.

        • I suspect it’s just that he’s been playing regularly for Lekhwiya. In my view that’s probably the biggest difference between him and other players around that age (like Ji DW and Kim BK). While Qatar isn’t a top league, it’s fine for young players to play and “get their feet wet” while they develop. The next test for Nam is whether he can push on over the next couple years or if he just stays pat where he is.

          • and there are some outstanding quality players over there (and some who I puzzle over why they are plying in the middle east): Asamoah Gyan (captain for Ghana) isn’t the best striker in the world, but he’s a proven goal scorer who could be a decent enough fit for a number of top flight Euro teams.

  2. Hello all. I am not sure if this has been answered in the forums. Where can we see the Korean Asian Cup matches? Will they be televised in the US? Thanks.

  3. I disagree with all of you. SHM is one of the three players that pass eyeball test. He is by far the best attacking threat that Korea has. I don’t get to watch Nam a lot but enough to know that he turns into a dud when confronted with quality. Same goes for Lee Keun Ho. I think Korean athletes should do little more weight training and eat more Kalbi instead of Kimchi.

    • I would ask you this, when (specifically) was the last time that Son had a game-changing performance for Korea? A match where he really imposed himself on the game and made a difference for the team?

    • Nam doesn’t play the same position as lee keun ho, or at least doesn’t have the same responsibilities. Nam as of late has been very creative. However, no one here has touted him as anyone amazing, but rather that he is making an impact on the team. LKH for what he’s asked to do (score) has not been a dud, as you say. Nam’s role isn’t to score. As for how Nam does confronted with quality perhaps you are right. However, in previous years he was a dud in non-quality matches, so that is improvement. As for SHM, Jae’s analysis is spot on. When you say he’s the best attacking threat, no one has argued otherwise, so I don’t see how you’re disagreeing with any of us. Jae’s simply pointing out that for the KNT, he hasn’t been nearly as impactful as he has for the club. The eye test observes talent more than it does results. Park Ju young passes the eye test usually when he competes for all 90 minutes, but that usually is just witnessing his talent rather than actual impact. SHM is far more impactful, of course, but I’m just drawing the comparison to show the limits of the eye test, which I, too, am predisposed towards. That said, I think it’s unfair to lay all or even most of the blame on SHM for his inefficiency on the KNT. I’d look at the system as more the issue than Son.

      As for Kalbi instead of Kimchi, maybe you’re just trying to sound clever or funny and failiing, but I would say most Koreans can figure out how to eat both at the same time. Not to mention, from a nutritionist’s perspective, your suggestion just sounds silly.

      All that said, I like hearing your comments. It’s always more fun when there are interesting comments rather than correct ones.

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