While none of the moves were all that surprising in terms of player/team combinations, the late nature with little warning was. The first step was Son's illness suddenly turning into a medical while his teammates were battling for CL survival. Then we saw Park Joo Ho reuniting with Tuchel the evening before the final match before the window closed. And now Koo, perhaps feeling a bit lonely without Park and Okazaki, jumped back to Augsburg for a third time in the final hours of the transfer window.
Son Heung Min to Tottenham Hotspur
This was surprising as Son had really struggled over the last third of last season and the beginning of this one. Whispers about dropping him to the bench had become quite a loud roar as he struggled to do anything positive in the first few weeks of the season. Yet a week after being pulled at halftime after an atrocious performance in leg 1 of CL playoffs, the Spurs came calling with a very large 30m euro offer.
In many ways it feels like a lateral move, with Son trading "Vicekusen" (due to coming up 2nd or worse in all competitions) for a club that can't quite compete for top 4 consistently (let alone titles). Then the drop off of from Champions League to Europa is dampened by the spotlight of London and big city Premier League football. The demands of being a huge buy are balanced by fans' experience of the Spurs' terrible transfer history.
So for those new to the blog, Son is a fast player with an immense shot with both feet. When he's on his game, he can also be a great passer and good playmaker, though that confidence usually only comes after he scores. Otherwise, his decision-making can be quite poor and slow, resulting in numerous wasted opportunities. His defense and endurance are also a bit weak, with the latter really compounded by his wasted movements as he tends to over-hustle when frustrated.
The good news however is that Son's role should be far simpler in this system and he'll be able to focus on doing what he does brilliantly, which is attack defenders with pace. At Leverkusen, Son thrived when they went all out attack, but when Schmidt asked more of his star, you could visibly see Son struggle with additional asks. With less defensive responsibilities, hopefully he stays fresher despite the heavy English schedule.
The downsides are also many. At Leverkusen, he was well adjusted from a teammate perspective where there seemed to be pretty genuine friendship among the young players and he spoke German very well. At Tottenham, while far from toxic, there may be less of a support system off the pitch. On top, he has to adjust to a new league where his pace is fast but not gamechanging, and his lack of physical domination, particularly in the air, may be large handicaps in a league that rewards physical play.
I'm cautiously optimistic that Son will have an initial edge due to lack of familiarity with his style of play and be able to catch defenders off guard with speed or his preferred (and excellent) cut-and-shoot move. But when things start to get hard, and the English press start asking for consistent value out of that big fee, can Son show the mental strength to pull through? He never answered the question at Leverkusen but we're about to find out if he can at the Spurs.
Park Joo Ho to Borussia Dortmund
Given Dortmund's need for a LB, Park's former manager Tuchel taking over manager role and Mainz' limited financial resources, I would have thought that Park would have been one of the first moves of the summer. But instead, Tuchel only called for him when his backup LB's injury turned out to be a long term one and the fee was quite small at 3m euro. Yet Park got the move he probably wanted last spring when Mainz seemed to struggle to meet his contract demands while exercising his option (the option was for the small salary based on when he was an unproven Swiss league transfer). Europa League football, a resurgent Dortmund team, and a manager who helped him raise his game to a high level.
Park Joo Ho is an incredibly subtle player. His tackles are clean dispossessions rather than heroic slides. He leverages his intelligence to position himself rather than running around like a maniac. Offensively, its much of the same where he emphasizes possession over attack. He's rarely dispossessed and isn't afraid of taking on pressing opposition with his dribbling, yet usually prefers to pass over attacking the opponents final third. When he does pass, they are accurate and rarely miss their target rather than Hollywood distance bombs. Yet looking closely and over the long run, you can see all these great qualities come out... where other players may flash brighter, his cumulative output is consistent quality.
Mainz appeared to be looking ahead to this move by giving Bengtsson more minutes than one would expect after Park's great season and early season contributions and at first at Dortmund it may even be less with Schmelzer in great form. Yet Dortmund is always running thin and injured and Schmelzer had previously been a problem rather than an asset. And when that happens Park will be looking to take advantage and in the meantime, help out with the multiple competitions that Dortmund is in.
Koo Ja Cheol to FC Augsburg
Now this one really caught me by surprise. I knew that Koo had fallen out of Schmidt's favor, but he was still being used as an impact sub. Mainz had spent a lot and it was unclear who was going to cover their loss for an unused player who didn't fit in their system. Well it turns out it was Augsburg who had already loaned him twice before and were flush with cash from the sale of Baba to Chelsea. While his second loan was marked by a number of injuries and inconsistent performances, clearly Weinzierl and co. thought highly enough of Koo to make him their record signing, albeit for a modest 5 million euro. Even odder was the lack of communication on the deal, where Koo didn't find out that Augsburg had agreed to a fee until he had already flown back to Korea where Koo soon had to turn around and fly right back for medical.
Koo's time at Mainz was marked by flashes of quality and hard work, mixed with a lack of intelligence on the pitch, injuries and wasted energy. For every great moment such as the assist that helped Mainz win a spot in Europa League playoff, there were plenty of others where Koo looked lost. He didn't fit into Schmidt's system last season and primarily played out of lack of alternatives, and looked even more lost in Schmidt's tweaks this season.
At Augsburg, it will be interesting to see where Koo lines up. It would seem at first the closest analog would be Altintop, though he appears to be one of Weinzierl's more preferred players. Koo complained about playing out wide but the performances there have been much more uneven and may need Koo's reinforcements. In all cases, Koo's battling personality should be a better fit for Augsburg style which relies on aggression more so than smooth rehearsed play and his ability to do so on both ends will be needed at Augsburg who has lacked that spark, particularly in the middle of the pitch.
... and Ji Dong Won?
And one other note is the possible positive impact Koo will have on his Korean teammates... and in particular Ji Dong Won. Ji has shown improving technical skills this season but can't quite put it together for a whole match and certainly not around the goal. He may be struggling for confidence and chemistry with his teammates, and having one of his best friends that helped him acclimate so quickly with Augsburg last time available both on and off the pitch may help unlock the talent that he's shown for glimpses.
So the Koo deal makes a lot more sense in the context of the greater team. Weinzierl gets a guy that he trusts and fits into his system... and potentially gets a new quality starting forward out of the broken pieces that's Ji Dong Won.