Best Asian Footballers of all time
Here, we will take a look at 10 of the best Asian footballers of all time. Asia has been a country which has nurtured talent in many sports. But as their talent get limited to track and field events, other sports take a backseat in comparison. However, this hasn’t prevented talented players to stop their profession as Asia continues to be a budding football-crazy continent. The 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan proved it with an electric atmosphere around the stadiums. Also, the Japanese women won the 2011 FIFA World Cup. Thus, along with the impressive performance by Asian teams in the 2002 World Cup, a foundation had been laid on the fact that Asian countries can give consistent competition to it’s European neighbours, a fact that had been established long back but was kept hidden from football fanatics due to the over reliance on European players. So, we will take a look at some of these players who have carved their own niche in the sport and made the continent proud.
#10 Khodadad Azizi
Azzizi is a retired Iranian player who was an integral part of the Iranian team in the 1996 Asian Cup, 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2000 Asian Cup. Collecting the honor of being the best player of Asia in 1996, he is prominently remembered for his goal against Australia that saw Iran qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Along with Ali Daei and Karim Bagheri, he is one of the first Iranians to play in the Bundesliga when he transferred to FC Koln where he scored 10 goals in 50 matches. He also played in the United States Soccer League but his decline was already imminent. Subsequently, he retired in 2006. But he would never be forgotten amongst Iran fans as he that solitary goal broke millions of Australian hearts and gave hope to the rife-strewn Iranian nation. He is the man who was responsible for Iran’s succes in the Asia Cup in 1996, winning the Asian Cup Most Valuable Player Award in the process. A true hero for Iran. Lets have a look at that pivotal goal against Australia that is forever etched in World Cup memory.
#9 Shinji Kagawa
The Japanese playmaker is renowned for his vision, passing and technique and has won many vocal as well as material accolades with Borrusia Dortmund and ultimately, with Manchester United. But the explosive skills that he displayed by sitting just behind the striker is not what he does at Manchester United and therefore, Moyes and Ferguson have been criticised for their tactics as Kagawa isn’t being used properly. If used in a proper way, he reaps goals for his team. With the uncanny ability to draw opposition players out of their goals, Kagawa deserves to be on this list and is a man to watch out for in the World Cup.
#8 Cha Bum-Kun
Regarded as the most prolific striker in South Korean soil, Cha Bum-Kun had a brilliant career at the club level with a goal tally of 58 goals. Internationally, he wasn’t short of his threat in front of goal as he proceeded to score 55 goals in 121 appearances. Due to these amazing performances, Cha was named as the Best Asian Footballer of the 20th Century by IFFHS. He remains the all-time top scorer for South Korea, wiining two UEFA Cups on the way with two different teams. A rare achievement by any player. An indomitable inspiration.
#7 Paulino Alcantara
Being the only South-East Asian footballer to ever be in the ranks of the Catalans, he was an impact player for the Catalans as, at the age of 15, he became the youngest Barcelona player to make his debut. Here, his prolificacy spelled volumes as he scored 100 goals in 69 matches. Internationally, he was dubbed as “net-breaker” as he was so lethal in front of goal that he broke the net with a shot during Phillipinnes’ encounter against France. Scoring 369 goals in 357 matches, Paulino remains one of the most deadliest strikers to grace the football pitch.
#6 Sami Al-Jaber
The evidence of getting success by just the sheer presence of a player is an understatement to what Sami Al-Jaber showed both on the international stage and at club level. Being at Al-Hilal, for an extraordinary time span for 20 years, Sami Al-Jaber helped the Saudi Arabian club to 6 league titles, 6 Crown Prince Cups and 2 Asian Champions League titles. This astounding figure gave evidence of his ability on the international stage, too, as he became just the second Saudi player to have 163 caps. He led the controversial nation to the second round of the 1994 World Cup, their first ever World Cup appearance. Scoring 143 goals in 305 matches at the club-level and 46 goals in 156 matches for his country, Sami Al-Jaber became a hugely respected figure in Saudi Arabia. Let’s have a look at the opening goal of the forward against Tunisia in the 2006 World Cup.
#5 Park Ji-Sung
Known for his off-the-ball movement, fitness level, discipline and work ethic, Park Ji-Sung was an extremely useful player as he could play as a defensive midfielder, winger, playmaker or even as a second striker. After recognizing his skills at PSG, former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson signed him for the Red Devils in 2005 for a fee of 4 million. Park had a great career at Old Trafford as he won four Premier League titles and one Champions Trophy with the Red Devils. But an injury-hit phase shunned him to the bench before being subsequently transferred to QPR. The injuries continued to bother him as he was loaned back to PSV just after one season.
Internationally, he won 100 caps and score 13 goals and also became the second Asian player (the first Korean player) to score in three consecutive World Cups.
#4 Shunsuke Nakamura
“And what a blistering free-kick!” Well, we don’t hear this comment often from anybody, if there’s a dead-ball situation from around 40 yards. Cristiano Ronaldo may have the capability to ripple the back of the net from such distances but not with the amazing consistency that a certain Japanese attacking midfielder used to in the past. His name is Shunsuke Nakamura. Along with his amazing free-kick capabilities, he is also reknowned for his vision and touch. Due to these fantabulous skills, he was termed as the Andrea Pirlo of his nation. The highlight of his international career was when he returned to the national team under the reigns of Zico where he replaced Hidetoshi Nakata, swiftly turned into an integral playmaker and was awarded the Most Valuable Player in Asia Cup 2004. Also, he had the best stint of his club career in Celtic where he played from 2005 to 2009, winning three league titles on the way. An influential players with tons of talent in him.
#3 Mehdi Mahdavikia
Asian players aren’t generally known to be skillful. It’s the other qualitiies that make them great, mainly teamwork and simplicity. But Mehdi Mahdavikia threw this notion out of the window as his exquisite crossing, dribbling and speed came to fore and rubbished oppponents in his way. He won the Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 1997 and also the Asian Footballer of the Year in 2003. His impressive performances in the 1998 World Cup earned him a signing from Hamburger SV where he played for eight seasons before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt. The successive failure in the Division made him go back to the Iranian league where he played for Steel Azin and Damash before joining his childhood club, Persepolis, where he played his last match.
On the international stage, he was an influential player in the 2003 and 2004 editions of the Asia Cup, being the assist leader in the latter. After the FIFA World Cup in Germany, Mahdavikia was handed the captain’s armband which he would keep on him for the next three years before being unceremoniously stripped off it and being forced to retire due to him wearing a green bracelet which signified his support for the highly controversial Iranian elections at that time. A sad end to such an enigmatic playing career. But Mahdavikia has left his impression on all aspiring footballers. An honest role model.
#2 Hidetoshi Nakata
Japan has been an unpredictable underdog in the World Cup scenario for quite a long time. The pacey counter-attacks and energy are something that are key in their upheaval to success. The presence of an influence in the team was key to this success and, for a considerable amount of time, it was Hidetoshi Nakata. The dynamic central midfielder had an amazing stint in the national side, with his prime performance being in the 1998 World Cup Qualifiers where he set up all three goals against Iran and having a goal tally of 5 goals. He continued his effectiveness at the club level, as he scored 12 goals in 48 matches for Perugia before being snapped up by Roma for 21.6 million pounds. Although he was benched for most of the games, Nakata scored some key goals for Roma when they needed them the most. Becoming the first ever Japanese player to appear in Serie A after Kazu Miura, Nakata’s career met a decline and, finally, he announced his retirement in 2006 as he “didnt find football fun anymore”. But the energy in open-play situations that this player posseses, few would be able to match that. A truly inspiring figure.
#1 Ali Daei
There could be no other person to top the list as this is a player who is an extreme goal machine. Blessed with brilliant finishing, positioning and off-the-ball movement, retired Iranian striker Ali Daei was instrumental in Iran’s success in the past few years. With a record international tally of 229 goals in 343 appearances, Ali Daei has been touted as one of the finest strikers that Asia has ever produced. He was the top scorer in the 1998 World Cup Qualifying Round, netting 9 goals in 17 matches. Seeing his amazing prolificacy, Bayern Munich decided to sign him for four-million Deutsche Mark in 1997, as Bayern Munich president, Franz Beckenbauer, called him a world-class forward at that time. Subsequently, he became the first Asian player to play in a Champions League game with his time in Bayern Munich. After Bayern Munich, he played for Hertha Berlin before returning to Persepolis, where he had started his Premier playing career, as a manager. Throughout his club career, he scored 112 goals in 287 matches. An amazing statistic for any Asian player which paved the way for other Asian players to make a mark in the European circuit.