Shinjio Kagawa and Atsuto Uchida have been generating the headlines this season with their accomplished performances for BVB and Schalke respectively, but they aren’t the only talented Asian players currently plying their trade in Germany. Here are three more.
After scoring in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea, Heung-Min Son was prevented from starting the Bundesliga season in attack for Hamburg.
He finally debuted professionally at the end of October in a DFB-Pokal tie against Eintracht Frankfurt, and has since then found himself catapulted into the unrelenting glare of the football spotlight.
Since that game in the German cup, the South Korean attacker has made three starts and four substitute appearances for Hamburg – six of which have ended in defeat.
Now away on Asian Cup duty for his country of birth, it’s easy to forget that the boy from the Gangwon province is still only 18 years old.
But look a little more closely and his inexperience becomes apparent. Son has seemed eager enough when brought on by Armin Veh, but it’s clear he needs to bulk up physically and improve his tactical discipline – particularly the defensive side – before he can earn himself a weekly position in HSV’s matchday squad.
Despite scoring three goals in Hamburg blue, Son has preceded such moments of magic with little else. The hype machine, seemingly unique to football, is never diluted by such minor issues when it comes to dousing talented teenagers in hyperbole.
But as the highly-touted likes of Änis Ben-Hatira and Marek Heinz have shown in recent years in north Germany, actions don’t necessarily grow to speak louder than words.
Still, it’s indisputable that the right-footed South Korean attacker, who has been deployed on the right, left, and up top so far this season, has what it takes to become a regular at Hamburg.
The man himself says: “If I ever want to be like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mladen Petrić then I have to start now”. With the Dutchman tipped to depart Germany during the January transfer window, Veh will be hoping that Son matures enough to lead the line more regularly.
Despite signing for Schalke in January 2010, Hao Junmin’s deal expires at the end of this season. The 23-year-old has struggled for game time under Felix Magath, but fans of the German club – Schalke also have a massive following in China according to Hao, with the Chinese public wowed by the impressive Veltins-Arena – were impressed with his contributions at the tail-end of the last campaign when Schalke were genuine title contenders.
One of the reasons the Chinese international, who has 30 caps to his name and is currently with his home nation at the Asian Cu, has struggled to get a game this season is that Magath has settled on a 4-4-2 diamond formation. The lack of width this formation generates in midfield, coupled with Atsuto Uchida and Lukas Schmitz nailing down the full-back slots, means that Hao can’t find a way into the Schalke XI.
The 23-year-old, comfortable on either wing or at full-back, will hope to have a good Asian Cup with his home nation in order to build up his confidence, get some much-needed match practise, and convince Magath that he’s the man to help resuscitate Schalke’s stuttering season.
Hao arrived aiming to prove that “Chinese soccer players can compete in the Bundesliga.” He now has four months to show that they can, and earn himself a new deal.
Jong Tae-Se was already crowned star of the North Korean story before the team had kicked a ball in World Cup 2010. As the camera glided by the 22 players before the game against Brazil, Jong was overcome with emotion, weeping his way through the North Korean national anthem.
The three games Jong played in South Africa were a microcosm of his time in the J-League with Kawasaki Frontale – lots of running, occasional glimpses of his undoubted talent, but poor decision making ultimately letting him down.
Nothing’s changed since the striker’s £250,000 transfer to 2. Bundesliga side VfL Bochum. Sometimes explosive and unplayable; more often, however, selfish and wasteful. Overall, Jong’s time at Bochum has been productive, if not headline-making.
He made a great start by learning the language within weeks of joining, but since then, has struggled to get to grips with the calorific German diet, the fact fans boo their team in Europe, and the cultural shock of having a bathroom that doesn’t contain a bidet!
If anything, Jong had extra pressure on his shoulders because Shinji Ono, another Asian star to ply his trade at Bochum, had a disappointing spell in North-Rhine Westphalia. The same, of course, can’t be said for Borussia Dortmund’s Japanese superman, Shinji Kagawa – someone Jong has developed a close friendship with in Germany.
The 26-year-old targeted a modest 10 goals before the season got underway, and from the 16 games the striker has been involved in so far, he’s hit eight of those already (along with two assists, 62 attempts on goals, and five yellow cards).
With Bochum struggling in mid-table, Friedhelm Funkel often alters his tactics, and Jong has found himself in various formations. When he’s played in a 4-4-2, the Nagoya-born North Korean – who has 15 goals in 25 games for his country, and hit 46 goals in 112 games for Kawasaki – has had to form a partnership with fellow newbie Mahir Sağlık.
If the pair can gel in the second half of the season, perhaps Bochum can make a late charge for one of the top three places. Jong though, has grander plans. Regularly referred to as the Asian Wayne Rooney, he openly admits that he wants to move to the Premier League as soon as possible (and has already learnt English in preparation).
Rather than Wayne Rooney, however, he bases his game on Didier Drogba’s. Jong doesn’t quite give Funkel that kind of physical presence up top just yet, but his relentless playing style could be crucial in exploiting tiring defences as the 2. Bundesliga season draws to a close.