Football in the continent of Asia came to the fore when Japan and South Korea successfully co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The global showpiece event helped beam a spotlight on the development of the sport in Asian countries.
South Korea's progress to the semifinals of the tournament also boosted the reputation of the country's players. Many of these footballers have since gone on to enjoy mainstream success in European football.
Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Australia are among the bonafide heavyweights of Asian football. They are followed by other nations like Qatar, India and China PR who have made concerted efforts in the last decade to improve their pedigree in the sport.
Asian football is still a long way off the standards set by most other confederations. But there is a growing belief that the continent could witness a quantum leap in the coming years.
Players of Asian descent have not historically been too rampant at top clubs in Europe. However, some renowned names like Park Ji-Sung, Hidetoshi Nakata, Ali Daei and current Tottenham star Son Heung-min have all made a mark on the global game.
Footballers today command hefty fees in both transfer sums and renumeration figures. Asian players have historically not commanded transfer fees as high as their counterparts from other continents.
However, the performance of current stars like Son, Takefusa Kubo and Mehdi Taremi could help change the narrative in the coming years.
Here is a rundown of the five most expensive Asian players in football history.
#5 Shinji Kagawa - €13m (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United, 2012)
Shinji Kagawa impressed in his native Japan at Cerezo Osaka before sealing a move to Europe with Borussia Dortmund in 2010. He blossomed under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, leading to interest in his services across Europe's elite.
Manchester United won the race for Kagawa's signature and completed his purchase for the sum of €13m in the summer of 2012. Things did not go to plan for the former Japan international at Old Trafford, however. Kagawa scored just six goals and assisted 10 more in 57 matches before returning to Dortmund after just two years in England.
#4 Alireza Jahanbakhsh - €19m (AZ Alkmaar to Brighton and Hove Albion) - 2018
Alireza Jahanbakhsh began his career with Iranian side Damash Tehran and it did not take too long for his ability from midfield to be noticed globally. The Eredivisie came calling for the Iran international and he spent five highly successful seasons with AZ Alkmaar.
His performance for AZ led to Brighton and Hove Albion sanctioning Jahanbakhsh's purchase for a club-record fee of €19m.
The 27-year-old spent three seasons at Brighton but several injury problems limited his contributions. In total, he made 50 Premier League appearances for the Seagulls but scored just two goals, one of which was a spectacular bicycle kick against Chelsea.
His horrific time with Brighton was brought to an end in the summer of 2021 through a return to the Eredivisie. Feyenoord came calling and Jahanbakhsh promptly departed the English shores.
#3 Hidetoshi Nakata - €28.4m (AS Roma to Parma, 2001)
Hidetoshi Nakata was the face of Asian football in his prime and he was arguably the first Asian player to enjoy mainstream coverage in Europe.
It was in Serie A that he truly captured the imagination, leading to a marquee transfer from AS Roma to Parma in the summer of 2001.
Parma had embarked on a spending spree in that period that saw them gather an expensively-assembled squad. They brought in the likes of Adriano, Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Hernan Crespo.
The Italian club paid a sum of €28.4m to AS Roma for the transfer of Nakata which stood as the record fee for an Asian player for almost 15 years. Interestingly, Nakata had completed another mega transfer worth €21.69m to Roma from Perugia only a year prior.
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#2 Son Heung-min - €30m (Bayer Leverkusen to Tottenham, 2015)
Son Heung-min is by far the most visible, active Asian player and arguably one of the very best players in the world.
The South Korean international made a name for himself at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga before sealing a move to Tottenham in the summer of 2015. Spurs paid Leverkusen a sum of €30m to secure his purchase which was a record fee paid for an Asian player.
Since then, the 29-year-old has gone on to cement his legacy in the annals of White Hart Lane with multiple fantastic displays in the attacking third.
So far, the former Hamburg man has scored 107 goals and provided 64 assists from 280 games in all competitions. Son has also quickly become a bonafide fan-favorite in London.
The South Korean's almost telepathic connection on the field with Harry Kane has also been beneficial to their club over the years. However, there is currently intense speculation over where his future lies.
#1 Shoya Nakajima - €35m (Portimonense to Al Duhail, 2017)
A lot of eyebrows were raised when Qatari side Al-Duhai sanctioned Shoya Nakajima's purchase for the pricey sum of €35m in February 2017.
The transfer became even more curious when he was allowed to join Porto just five months later, having played just seven league matches. In those matches, he scored only one goal.
Nakajima's spell at Porto was even more underwhelming. He failed to score a single goal in the 20 league matches he played for the Dragons across two seasons. The 26-year-old most recently joined UAE Pro League side Al Ain on a six-month loan in January 2021.