Opinion: Why Heung-min Son’s Golden Boot is shinier than the rest

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Heung-min Son
Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Thanks to his 23rd league goal at Carrow Road with just 15 minutes of the season remaining, alongside Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Heung-Min Son was named the 2021/22 Golden Boot winner (Sky Sports).

In times gone by, while 23 goals could be considered low for winning the Golden Boot, it has been the magic number in recent years.

Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy; the previous two recipients, both netted 23 times in their award-winning seasons. The year before, Pierre Emeric-Aubameyang, Saido Mane, and Salah all shared the prize with 22, meaning 23 goals would have won the award outright (Premier League).

Regardless of the tally, the Premier League Golden Boot is a prestigious achievement and in being the newest recipient, Son joins a list of elite Premier League players. However, it could be argued his achievement is a cut above the rest.

Pundits and fans alike have waxed lyrical about his 23 non-penalty goals, and rightly so, as it’s a remarkable feat, but is just one of several outstanding factors in Son’s exceptional season.

Spurs fans will remember our bleak beginning to the season, as when Nuno Espirito Santos was in the dugout, 1-0 wins seemed to be the goal.

For Son, this meant playing in a negative, defense-minded system, and while not strictly quantifiable, his potential output surely suffered.

While things did improve with Antonio Conte in charge, under both managers, at times creativity was non-existent.

Against Manchester United and Everton, Nuno’s last and Conte’s first game respectively, Spurs went back-to-back league games without a shot on target, the first recorded instance since Opta began in 2003/04 (Opta Joe).

At the time, this looked an anomaly in years’ worth of data, however in reoccurring against Brighton and Brentford later in the season, this unfortunately wasn’t the case.

This shortcoming of Tottenham is also intrinsic to Son, as if there is any criticism to be levelled his way; when he isn’t producing a world-beating performance, he often offers nothing. Seldom does he occupy the middle ground.

From Son’s perspective, his role in our shots on targetless games can be viewed two ways; either he was starved of service, or he alongside others, severely lacked creativity.

Arguments can be made either way, however, at risk of evoking a chicken and egg-like debate, I’ll move on to discuss Son’s defining factors, but whether it was his fault or not, this surely impacted his campaign.

In early May, Son scored a brace in our comfortable 3-1 win at Leicester with his second goal typifying everything great about the Korean. Receiving a pass from Kulusevski, Son took one touch to control and another to set himself, before unleashing an unsavable left-footed effort by Kaspar Schmeichel from outside the box.

With an xG of just 0.02 (Understat) and being off his supposed weaker right foot (FBref), this goal cites both outstanding factors which make Son an outlier.

In 2021/22, Son’s 23 league goals came from an xG of just 16.99, essentially meaning he finished chances at a far greater rate than expected.

For context; Salah, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Harry Kane, the league’s next three top scorers, recorded xG’s of 24.36, 17.21, and 20.69 from their 23, 18, and 17 goals respectively.

In converting six more times than expected, Son has shown a unique ability to create goals from nothing, illustrated by his finish at Leicester, then again at Norwich where his 23rd and final league goal came from just 0.01 single-shot xG.

To summarise; Son’s finishing is elite.

The other factor, which may contribute to his overperformance in xG, is his two-footedness. Son’s 23 goals are made up of an almost even split of strong and weak footed strikes, netting 12 with his right and 11 with his left

His dexterity will perplex defenders, as when defending against Son, the old trick of showing him his weak side is inapplicable, as as shown by the numbers, he is lethal from either side.

Compared to Salah, Ronaldo, and Kane, Son again is the outlier, as no member of the aforementioned trio comes close to matching Son’s two-footed finishing ratio this season.

Strikers will claim it doesn’t matter how they go in, and in truth, it doesn’t. But this adds another string to Son’s bow, and more reason for his Golden Boot to stand out amongst the rest.

Even now, the wider audience still seems to label Son underrated, although his Golden Boot may help rid him of this criminal inaccuracy.

Since becoming a Tottenham regularly in 2016/17, Son has recorded 14, 12, 12, 11, and 17 league goals across five seasons whilst contributing a further 42 assists, demonstrating longevity in being a source of constant, reliable output (Transfermarkt).

Now, Son will have his sights set on his next personal accolade; the Premier League Hundred Club. 

With 93 goals, the Korean is next in line to become a centurion, and when he does so, will become the first Asian player to reach the milestone representing yet another career-defining achievement.     

However, this is all in the future, and for now, Son must enjoy a well-earned summer off ahead of another big season in North London with the knowledge that at least for Spurs fans, his Golden Boot may shine a little brighter than this rest.

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