Glancing at the nominees for the most recent Champions League player of the week, some of the usual powerhouse footballing nations were represented – Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands. But alongside Lionel Messi, Roberto Firmino and Matthijs de Ligt was an unusual sight, particularly in a quarter-final week – an Asian face. Barcelona genius Messi may have won for his virtuoso performance in the destruction of Manchester United. But arguably Tottenham’s brilliant South Korean star Son Heung-min was the player of the round. With Spurs leading 1-0 from the home leg thanks to Son’s goal, the forward helped steer them into a semi-final against Ajax Amsterdam with two quick-fire goals in the dramatic 4-4 aggregate win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. This after Raheem Sterling had quickly cancelled out Spurs’ first-leg advantage within a matter of minutes. Tottenham could have buckled were it not for Son’s two excellent finishes in a crazy opening 20 minutes. That set the stage for an incredible night, capped off by two huge VAR decisions – one allowing Fernando Llorente’s decisive goal, the other denying an injury-time “winner” for Sterling. And it was hard to think whether an Asian player had ever starred like this on such a big Champions League occasion, and swung such an important European tie. Park Ji-sung’s goal against Chelsea, in the 2011 quarter-finals, which immediately helped calm Manchester United’s nerves after Chelsea had pulled one back to make it 2-1 on aggregate at Old Trafford, comes to mind. Son’s fellow South Korean was also a Champions League regular for PSV Eindhoven under Guus Hiddink, helping them to the last four in 2005. Those performances caught the eye of Alex Ferguson, who made him one of his go-to players for the big European games. Park also scored in United’s 3-1 semi-final second leg win against Arsenal in 2009, and started both of Ferguson’s heartbreaking final defeats by Barcelona. His nickname “three-lung Park” – earned by a propensity to run more than any other player on the pitch – didn’t help dispel the “hard-working” stereotype which is lazily applied to the best Asian players. But his relentless energy did help disrupt the narrative that Asian players are only good for selling shirts at the top clubs. It does still help, of course – signing Wu Lei in January has earned Spain’s Espanyol an army of new Chinese fans, who aren’t happy to see their man back on the bench recently. There is also doubtless a legion of fans in South Korea splashing out for replica Tottenham shirts, but Son now has admirers all over the globe, and that is priceless for the perception of Asian football. Is he the best Asian player ever? Just as Mauricio Pochettino is – perhaps unfairly – criticised for not winning a trophy with Spurs, Son has no club medals to his name (he did inspire South Korea to Asian Games gold last summer, which also conveniently gets him out of having to do military service). Compare that to Japan’s Shinji Kagawa, who has won the Bundesliga and German Cup twice with Borussia Dortmund. Or his fellow countryman Hidetoshi Nakata, who won the Italian title with Roma in 2001 and the Coppa Italia with Parma in 2002. But while Park and Nakata were hard-working midfielders with an eye for goal, and Kagawa could unlock defences with incredible passes, Son combines all of these attributes and has plenty more in his locker. Son has even taken his game to new levels this season – usually a wide forward, he has stepped in effortlessly when Harry Kane has been injured, scoring nine goals in 15 starts up front for Tottenham. He has 59 goals in all competitions over the last three seasons for Spurs, more than Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, City’s Raheem Sterling and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Son can feel aggrieved at being left off the list for PFA player of the year with Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Virgil Van Dijk, Bernardo Silva, Mane and Hazard getting the nod. Son’s feats this season are all the more remarkable given he has barely had a break since the summer of 2017 – he played the 2018 World Cup, started the season for Spurs and then went to Jakarta for the Asian Games, came straight back into Pochettino’s side and then went off again to the Asian Cup in the UAE. His talents deserve recognition – his £22 million fee from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 now seems a bargain, and at 26 years old he is arguably yet to hit his peak. Indeed, Tottenham could face a fight to keep him with Europe’s big guns certain to have been watching.