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Tottenham star Son Heung-min returns home after up-and-down Premier League season

May 30, 2023 - 19:45 By Yonhap
Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur waves to fans gathered at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, after arriving home following the end of the Premier League season on May 30, 2023. (Yonhap)

South Korean football icon Son Heung-min came home Tuesday after completing a tumultuous Premier League season with Tottenham Hotspur, a campaign that featured a serious injury, multiple coaching changes and a significant personal milestone.

Son arrived at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, to great fanfare Tuesday afternoon. Judging by the reception, it would have been difficult to guess Son had just wrapped up an unproductive season, at both individual and club levels.

Son made history in the 2021-2022 season by becoming the first Asian player to win the Premier League Golden Boot. He shared the honor with Mohamed Salah of Liverpool by scoring a career-high 23 goals in 35 matches.

Son scored just 10 times in 36 matches this past season, barely able to reach double figures for the seventh consecutive season.

Son didn't score until his seventh match of the season, as he bust out of his slump with a hat trick against Leicester City in September.

Son, however, was held goalless for the next eight games, including the two immediately following the midseason break for the FIFA World Cup.

And with only about three weeks before the big tournament, Son suffered broken facial bones in a collision with an opponent during a UEFA Champions League match in early November. It didn't just threaten to derail Tottenham's season; whatever hopes South Korea had of going on a deep run at the World Cup seemed to have been dashed.

Son gamely played wearing a protective mask, as he captained South Korea to the round of 16 for the country's first knockout appearance in 12 years.

The awe-inspiring performance in Qatar didn't quite translate to success in the Premier League. When the calendar flipped to 2023, Son was still stuck at three goals.

Stuck in Premier League purgatory that is mid-table, Tottenham sacked head coach Antonio Conte in late March. Among the criticisms Conte had faced was his inability to bring the best out of Son. With caretaker boss Cristian Stellini and then his replacement Ryan Mason in charge, Son netted four goals in a five-match span in April.

The goal against Brighton and Hove Albion on April 8 was Son's 100th career Premier League goal, making him the first Asian player to reach the century mark.

Coaching changes did little to turn Tottenham's season around, though. They wrapped up their disappointing season with a 4-1 victory over Leeds United on Sunday. Despite the closing win, Spurs still finished in eighth place with 60 points and missed out on all European competitions for next season -- the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Conference League.

Spurs will be on the outside looking in during all continental club battles for the first time in 13 years.

Son, who joined Tottenham prior to the 2015-2016 season, has played in a European club tournament every season of his career in north London.

Son is longtime captain of the South Korean national team. He will suit up for the team's two friendly matches scheduled next month: against Peru on June 16 and then against El Salvador on June 20. (Yonhap)