Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino on Wednesday praised Son Heung-min and said he regarded the South Korean superstar as Asia’s answer to David Beckham.
The 27-year-old forward was undoubtedly the focus of attention for fans in Shanghai, where Spurs play Premier League rivals Manchester United in a friendly on Thursday.
Pochettino’s side, beaten by Liverpool in the final of the Champions League, arrived in China from Singapore, where Son was similarly feted.
“We can see how people love Sonny in Asia, he’s an icon. We joked a bit, but I compare him with David Beckham,” said Pochettino.
“But I’m not surprised and it’s good to see how people love him and how important he is to people.”
The Argentine manager, who will be expected to mount a Premier League title challenge with his side this season, praised the way that Son bounced back from a difficult first year in England.
Son joined the Londoners from Bayer Leverkusen four summers ago, but showed only flashes of his potential in his debut season and was linked with a move away from Spurs.
But he has gone on to become a key player and last season was outstanding, scoring 12 goals in 31 Premier League matches and racking up seven assists.
Pochettino praised Son’s “fantastic mentality” and desire to keep improving, saying: “He is a good example for all the fans and people, not only here in Asia but in the whole world.
“His first season was tough, it was tough to adapt to England, to new football, new culture, new habits.
“But after the first season his adaptation was unbelievable and he became a very important player for us.”
The affable Son, who was mentioned by some experts as a potential player of the year in the Premier League last season, said that he was proud to be a flag-bearer for Asian footballers.
He said the Spurs players, among them striker Harry Kane, “deserved” to win a trophy this season – something that has eluded them under Pochettino since he arrived at the club in 2014.
“Seeing how hard the players work, how professional we are, I am so proud of this team,” said Son.
“Until now we don’t have anything, it’s tough, but we are looking forward to being successful.
“I am sure we can do better than last season.”
A torrential downpour struck towards the end of an open Spurs training session on Wednesday morning and there is the possibility of more rain later in the day, and on Thursday.