In the context of sport, football and Asia are not exactly synonymous with each other. Europe could be labelled as the hub of football, with several domestic leagues and the elite European championship (UEFA Champions League) capturing the attention of viewers worldwide. On the other hand, a handful of domestic leagues are active in Asia but the continent is yet to witness the heights that the game has hit in Europe and South America.
From decades, the best Asian football players transcended various cultural barriers, overcame racism and made a significant contribution to European clubs. Their perseverance and achievements left an indelible mark in the minds of the fans. It is important to remember that some of this was before the advent of televised football and social media platforms galore, which have now enabled the sport to penetrate a wider-reaching audience, more than ever before.
Here we take a look at some of the top names from Asia who made a mark in European football during their respective careers.
10. Shinji Okazaki
Okazaki was relatively unknown in England when he moved to Leicester but soon became a household name when he won the 2015/16 Premier League in his debut season. He scored 5 goals in the league for the eventual champions but played a bigger part in the team’s build-up, style and tactics that enabled the Foxes to conquer the summit only 12 months after languishing in the relegation zone. Okazaki is only the second Japanese player ever to win the EPL, after Shinji Kagawa.
Prior to his stint in England, Okazaki scored 42 goals in more than 150 appearances during his stints at VfB Stuttgart and then FSV Mainz 05 to become one of the most prolific Japanese players in the Bundesliga
Always a team-player, Okazaki became a full international for Japan in 2008 at the age of 23. In 2009, he amassed 15 goals for his nation and won the ‘World's top goal scorer of 2009’ awarded by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). With 49 goals for his country, the top scorer in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers (Asian section) is currently third on Japan’s all-time scoring charts.