India's Sunil Chhetri has been nominated for the 'Best Footballer in Asia 2018' award by the Titan Sports. The Bengaluru FC captain was also nominated for the award in 2017 but finished in the 25th place only ahead of Saudi Arabia's Osama Hawsawi and Yasser Al-Shahrani. Other than Sunil Chhetri, Lalrindika Ralte is the only Indian to have been nominated for the award in its inaugural 2013 edition. The East Bengal player had finished in the bottom of the pile, picking up only one point.
No Indian has ever won the award with the previous winners either being a Japanese or a South Korean. In 2018, Sunil Chhetri scored eight goals- thrice against Chinese Taipei in the 5-0 victory, twice against Kenya in their 3-0 victory, once against New Zealand in their 1-2 loss, and twice against Kenya in their 2-0 win in the final of the Intercontinental Cup- for the Blue Tigers in 5 appearances. While playing for Bengaluru FC, Sunil Chhetri has found the back of the net 22 times in 33 appearances if all the official competitions- AFC Cup, Indian Super League, and Super Cup- are taken into account.
One ought to note that the AFC- the highest governing body of football in Asia- doesn't give out this award. The Asian Football Confederation awards the Asian Footballer of the Year to the best Asian player in the given calendar year. Last year, Qatar's Abdelkarim Hassan won the accolade adjudged by the AFC technical department and match commissioners only.
This award has a similar organizing structure and voting rules as the Ballon d’Or given by the French Football Association. Only the Asians playing in Asia are considered for the 'Asian Footballer of the Year' award. But, for the 'Best Footballer in Asia 2018' award, Asians plying their trade abroad and, foreigners playing in Asian clubs are also eligible. Media representatives of nearly 40 AFC football associations and some Asian football experts of European football media outlets constitute the juror panel.
In the inaugural 2013 edition, Japan and CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda won the award with 46 points. South Korea's Son Heung-Min won the 2014 and 2015 edition of the award while representing Bayer Leverkusen and Tottenham Hotspur respectively. Leicester City's Shinji Okazaki won the 2016 edition of the tournament pipping Al-Ain's Omar Abdulrahman by three points. However, in the previous 2017 edition, Son Heung-Min won the award again with a staggering 156 points.
Here is the 24-member list:
Name Club Nationality
Akram Afif Al Sadd (Qatar) Qatar
Alireza Beiranvand Persepolis (Iran) Iran
Marcus Berg Al Ain (United Arab Emirates) Sweden
Baghdad Bounedjah Al Sadd (Qatar) Algeria
Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru (India) India
Neil Etheridge Cardiff City (Wales) Philippines
Salman Al Faraj Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) Saudi Arabia
Makoto Hasebe Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) Japan
Abdelkarim Hassan Al Sadd (Qatar) Qatar
Hwang Ui-jo Gamba Osaka (Japan) Korea Republic
Takashi Inui Eibar (Spain)/Real Betis (Spain) Japan
Alireza Jahanbakhsh Brighton & Hove Albion (England) Iran
Cho Hyun-woo Daegu (Korea Republic) Korea Republic
Valery Kichin Yenisey (Russia) Kyrgyzstan
Kwoun Sun-tae Kashima Antlers (Japan) Korea Republic
Aaron Mooy Huddersfield Town (England) Australia
Nguyen Quang HaiHà Nội (Vietnam) Vietnam
Yuya Osako Koln (Germany)/ Werder Bremen (Germany) Japan
Matthew Ryan Brighton & Hove Albion (England) Australia
Serginho America Mineiro (Brazil)/Kashima Antlers (Japan) Brazil
Gen Shoji Kashima Antlers (Japan) Japan
Son Heung-min Tottenham Hotspur (England) Korea Republic
Yuma Suzuki Kashima Antlers (Japan) Japan
Wu Lei Shanghai SIPG (China) China