These talents are flying Asia’s flag high at some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Asia may not be as big in football as Europe, but it is not short of talented exceptional players. Europe is the centre of attraction for football in the world where the top leagues have the best clubs and the best players in the world plying their trade.
Asia lacks the number of leagues housing top of the line professional talent, with only Japan and South Korea having decent professional leagues attracting fans and top stars on a regular basis.
We, therefore, take a look at the current crop of active Asian Footballers who are playing in Europe’s top leagues and making a name for themselves.
1. Son Heung-min- Tottenham Hotspur
Probably the most popular Asian player in the English Premier League right now, Son Heung-min has been a prolific forward for the London-based club. The winger was signed by Tottenham Hotspur in 2015 from Bayer Leverkusen for an impressive fee of £18m, becoming the most expensive Asian player ever in the process. Son also featured for German side Hamburger SV from 2010 to 2013.
Son featured in both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League and has scored 30 goals for Spurs since joining the Premier League side. He has now become a regular name on the team-sheet for Mauricio Pochettino after delivering fantastic displays and scoring vital goals for the London club. Add to that, he is also the AFC International Footballer of the Year for 2017.
2. Shinji Kagawa- Dortmund
Shinji Kagawa became the first Japanese player to win a Premier League title when he won the league with Manchester United back in 2012-13. Interestingly, Kagawa is also the first Asian Footballer to score a hat-trick in the Premier League.
He started his European stint with Borussia Dortmund in 2010 where he won the Bundesliga title in 2011-12. On 31 August 2014, Kagawa made a return to the German side after having signed for United in 2012, the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.
3. Shinji Okazaki- Leicester City
The player from Japan won the Premier League with Leicester City in 2015-16. The forward has been a regular starter alongside strike partner Jamie Vardy. Okazaki broke into the European scene in 2011, when he was signed by VFB Stuttgart of the Bundesliga. Later in 2013, he moved to German club 1.FSV Mainz 05, where he scored a total of 27 goals, becoming the most prolific Japanese player in the Bundesliga.
The forward is only the second Japanese player to win the English title after Kagawa, who won it with United. Okazaki was also honoured with the AFC International Player of the Year award for his incredible contribution in Leicester City’s title-winning season, which is hailed as one of the most remarkable achievements in modern sports history.
4. Maya Yoshida
Another Japanese star featuring in the list is Maya Yoshida. Yoshida currently plays for Southampton in the heart of their defence. His introduction to European football goes back to 2009 when he signed for Dutch side VVV-Venlo.
Yoshida signed for Southampton in 2012 for a fee in the region of £3m. Initially, he was a fringe player, however, since the departure of Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool, Yoshida has become a vital part of the Saints’ defensive line. He has since delivered some solid performances and is fighting to keep his team from relegation.
5. Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Hailing from Iran, the attacking midfielder arrived in Europea through a transfer to Dutch side NEC in 2013. Alireza came second as the Eredivisie’s best talent only to the charismatic Memphis Depay then. He scored 17 goals in 55 appearances for NEC and signed for AZ Alkmaar in 2015-16.
Later, he featured in the UEFA Europa League for his current employers and was voted as the best winger in the Dutch league the following season. Alireza has been involved in 33 goals this season, netting 21 and assisting another 12 in 33 appearances.
He also ended up being the top scorer in the Eredivisie. This was the first time in history when an Asian scored the most goals in any European top division. He is being touted as one of the most exciting prospects from Asia and looks set for bigger things in the years to come.
There are many more good players from Asia that could have featured in the above list, such as, Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea City), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin) and Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) among many others.