Leverkusen - For the man in the media spotlight in the wake of Bayer 04 Leverkusen's 5-3 home win against Hamburger SV on Matchday 12, the relief was palpable. Heung Min Son admitted as much himself to the assembled journalists, describing how a more relaxed approach going into the game had greatly helped his own performance against his former employers.
Goal slump after promising start
The end results were concrete enough - a first-ever Bundesliga hat-trick for the 21-year-old South Korean star and three more points for Leverkusen, keeping them right in the mix alongside FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund at the top of the standings. Son made a particular point of thanking “my teammates and the coaching staff for keeping my confidence up. The gaffer [Sami Hyypiä] said I shouldn't be putting myself under so much pressure, because it's still my first season at Leverkusen. That all helped today.”
Indeed, while Bayer as a whole have continued to flourish this season, picking up where they left off in 2012/13, Son's own transition following his summer move from Hamburg has not been quite as seamless. Signed up by the Werkself in the wake of Andre Schürrle's move to Chelsea FC - but not, as Hyypiä made clear at the time, as a direct replacement for the Germany international - he got off to a flier with his new club, scoring the pivotal second goal in a 3-1 home victory over SC Freiburg to kick-off the league campaign. That, however, would be as good as it got in the scoring stakes for the Chuncheon city native until the first of his treble hit the net against HSV eleven matchdays later.
In the interim, attacking midfielder Sidney Sam and last season's Bundesliga top scorer Stefan Kießling assumed the bulk of Leverkusen's goal-grabbing duties and while Son was starting more often than not, he also found himself frequently replaced before the finish - often by midfielder Jens Hegeler, but in close conjunction with the introduction of another wide attacking specialist fresh on the books, Robbie Kruse.
Precocious talent confirmed
Not that the South Korean star is by any means taking an automatic first-team berth for granted. “We've such a busy schedule with the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Cup. I can't play all the time, that's obvious,” he noted. “We've a really strong squad, so you've got to accept that sometimes you're going to be on the bench.”
That said, he has no inclination ever to remain there for long and nor, on past form, is he likely to. Son was barely 16 when he left his homeland in 2008 to join Hamburg's youth academy on a programme jointly sponsored by the Bundesliga outfit and the South Korean FA. Two years later, he penned his first professional contract after debuting at senior level for the Red Shorts during the pre-season preparations.
'Gem of a striker'
Armin Veh, Hamburg's coach at the time and now in the hotseat at Eintracht Frankfurt, predicted a bright future for a “gem of a striker” who “has more skills at 18 than a lot of other players at 30.” And after recovering from the almost instant setback of a fractured metatarsal, Son went on to confirm that early prognosis over the following three seasons which, while something of a rollercoaster ride for the Bundesliga's only ever-present club, saw his personal star very much in the ascendancy.
Now, evidently settling into the groove to ever greater effect at one of the country's top clubs, South Korea's favourite footballing son is looking forward to illuminating the stage at home and abroad - first with Bayer Leverkusen over the coming months and then with the Taeguk Warriors at next summer's FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.
Check out Son's fantastic hat-trick against former club Hamburg right here, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: