These players have established themselves as the new face of the sport in their continent.
Gone are the days when Europe and Latin America were considered as the sole hotbeds of modern-day football. The game has spread to other parts of the world as well, with Asian footballers also making headlines on the basis of their talent and skill, on a regular basis.
Asian footballers have undergone a drastic development over the past few years. The last decade itself witnessed many talented stars coming up from the continent, with some of them even going on to represent some of the best teams from the most popular European leagues, like the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A.
Here are the top five Asian footballers who are plying their trade in top European leagues.
5. Hwang Hee-chan (RB Leipzig)
South Korea’s Hwang Hee-chan recently made news for his €15million move from RB Salzburg to RB Leipzig. Erling Haaland’s former teammate will play for the Bundesliga side from the next season onward.
The 24-year-old’s first high-profile move happened in 2015, when he joined the Austrian club FC Liefering. The following year, he made the switch to RB Salzburg, and slowly rose to prominence at the club as a forward. During the 2018-19 season, he also enjoyed a fairly successful stint at Hamburger SV on a loan deal, before returning to his parent club last year and becoming the first-choice starter under coach Jesse Marsh.
He has registered 16 goals and 22 assists for the club during their campaign last season. Well known for his work-rate, he is likely to be on the radar of the biggest European clubs if he continues to produce similar results at his new club.
4. Takumi Minamino (Liverpool)
Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino is the next player on this list of Asian footballers. The winger moved to Merseyside from RB Salzburg in January for a reported fee of €8.5 million. Although he is yet to make his first start for Jurgen Klopp’s side, he has already made eight appearances for them in the Premier League. He is also yet to open his goal-scoring account at his new club.
Minamino impressed during his four-year stint with RB Salzburg. A former Cerezo Osaka-youth product, he played 199 matches across all competitions for the Austrian side and netted 64 goals and registered 44 assists. In the first half of the 2019-20 season, he was a part of their attacking front-three alongside Haaland and Hwang Hee-chan, before each of them went separate ways during the January transfer window.
Minamino also featured twice against his current club in the Champions League 2019-20 season, notching a goal and an assist each during their first meeting on October 2.
The Japanese youngster’s biggest advantage is his pace. One can be sure that he will definitely create a solid impact in the Premier League next season.
3. Lee Kang-in (Valencia)
Lee Kang-in has been a part of the Valencia set-up since 2011, when he joined their youth team from Incheon United at just ten years of age. After impressing at various youth levels, the South Korean international was promoted to Valencia’s senior team in 2018. So far he has played 35 matches for them, out of which 24 happened in the 2019-20 season.
So far, Lee Kang-in has featured prominently for the side in cup games. He was also a part of the squad that won the Copa del Rey last year, beating FC Barcelona in the final. In the current campaign, he managed six starts including once in the Champions League, and also scored a couple of goals in the La Liga.
The 19-year-old’s creative ability, tactical awareness and passing accuracy have resulted in drawing him comparisons with Manchester City stalwart David Silva. He was also the winner of the Golden Ball at the U-20 World Cup last year, and made his senior debut for South Korea immediately after.
2. Takefusa Kubo (Real Mallorca)
Nicknamed “The Japanese Messi,” Takefusa Kubo is the latest addition to the fairly big list of star names to be associated with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. The former La Masia graduate was signed by Real Madrid last summer and went on to participate in their pre-season tours, before Real Mallorca snapped him up on a season-long loan deal.
The Japan international joined Barcelona’s famed youth academy in 2011, and spent four years there alongside the likes of Ansu Fati, before returning to his home country and joining FC Tokyo’s youth side. He later played for their senior team and also had a stint at Yokohama F. Marinos in the J1 League, before Los Blancos came calling.
In the 2019-20 season, Kubo made 36 appearances for Mallorca, scoring four times along with providing five assists. He also has seven senior caps to date with the Japan national team, and is rated highly for his dribbling skills, passing accuracy and long-range shots.
1. Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur)
Very few fans of football will have not heard of Son Heung-min, who is slowly becoming quite the legend for Tottenham Hotspur. The South Korean international has been around the block long enough for us to acknowledge the fact that he is, in fact, among the best Asian footballers currently.
A former FC Seoul youth team player, Son transferred to Hamburger SV’s U-17 team in 2008. In 2013, he joined Bayer Leverkusen and played with them for a couple of seasons, before Spurs signed him for €30million ahead of the 2015-16 season. Currently 28 years old, the winger has played over 220 matches for the North Londoners so far and also recorded 85 goals and 47 assists for them. He also played a vital role last season as the club went on to play in the finals of the UEFA Champions League, where they lost to Liverpool.
Son is also one of South Korea’s most-capped players, with 89 appearances to his name till date. He has also scored 26 international goals for his country. In the ongoing 2019-20 season, he has played in 40 matches for Spurs, scoring 18 times along with providing 22 assists. He is also a regular presence in the starting XI under Jose Mourinho.