The Premier League’s best Asian players ranked
South Korea leads the way in producing top-flight talents
Tottenham superstar Son Heung-Min is the continent’s finest export
Given the continent’s vast size and incalculable number of inhabitants, it surprises how few Asian footballers have lit up the Premier League, especially in comparison to Europe and South America.
Top 10 Asian Players In PL History:
Yet quantity perhaps pales to quality when it comes to these ten fantastic talents, who have delighted and impressed having arrived from far flung shores.
10) Seol Ki-hyeon
The pacy winger became the first South Korean to score a Champions League goal when he notched for Anderlecht in a qualifying round and his performances in Belgium led to Championship side Wolves swooping in 2004.
A failure to secure promotion resulted in Seol switching to Reading – who did go up that year – and initially he greatly impressed, scoring match-winners and exhibiting his array of skills.
A bust-up with manager Steve Coppell however meant a third transfer, to Fulham and sadly, there, the former Ballon d’Or nominee failed to sparkle on a consistent basis.
9) Ki Sung-yueng
A versatile midfielder capable of the odd spectacular goal from range, Ki joined the Swans for a then club record fee of £6m after making his name via a series of composed displays for Celtic.
His passing chops and ease in possession made him a firm favourite of Brendan Rodgers and it was in Wales where Ki played his most effective football, a pivotal figure for a side that routinely punched above its weight.
At Newcastle his input became peripheral and perhaps a player who ultimately won 110 caps for South Korea deserved better than that.
8) Ali Al-Habsi
Unquestionably the most famous footballer to derive from Oman, what astonishes about the popular keeper was that he didn’t pick up a pair of gloves until he was 17.
Seven years later, via a short stint in Norway, Ali was facing shots from household names, and if they came from 12 yards out, usually stopping them.
In 2011/21, Ali saved four penalties from illustrious figures such as Robin Van Persie and Carlos Tevez. No Premier League keeper has ever prevented more in a single campaign.
7) Maya Yoshida
Now plying his trade in Italy at Sampdoria, Yoshida’s long service on the south coast included spells at left-back, right-back and in the centre, finally making the latter position his own following Southampton’s sale of Virgil Van Dijk.
In 158 appearances, across eight seasons, the Japanese defender was a study of reliability, blessed with an innate reading of danger and always timely in a tackle.
There is also the not-so-insignificant matter of the Nagasaki-born stopper winning 111 caps for the Blue Samarai.
6) Lee Young-Pyo
For PSV Eindhoven, Spurs and later, Borussia Dortmund, Lee was a criminally under-rated right-footed left-back whose dribbling ability and propensity to attack marked him up as a thoroughly modern full-back.
In truth, Tottenham never saw the very best of the South Korean though among his 70 Premier League appearances there were ample illustrations of his creativity from wide positions.
He was hardly a slouch when nullifying wingers at the other end either.
What Spurs wouldn’t give for a player of his impact and versatility right now because, as the betting reflects, the North London giants are enduring a season to forget.
5) Sun Jihai
Our Premier League predictions tip the Cityzens to have yet another successful season with a sixth title in their sights.
Back in Sun Jihai’s day, success was made up of more modest aspirations, namely staying in the top-flight and maybe going deep in a domestic cup.
Signed for £2m in 2002 after a loan spell at Crystal Palace revealed his athletic playing style was a good fit for English fare, the right-back soon established himself as a cult hero among the City faithful.
In 150 appearances, he never let them down.
4) Shinji Kagawa
High expectations accompanied Kagawa’s move from Borussia Dortmund to England in 2012 but unfortunately the Premier League and his twinkling brand of football proved a mismatch.
Indeed, after two seasons hampered by injuries and largely ineffectual form, the attacking midfielder only made 38 appearances, with incoming gaffer David Moyes making it clear that one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever singings was not to his liking.
He deserves a high ranking here though and not simply because of his quality. Kagawa was the first Asian player to score a Premier League hat-trick and the first Japanese star to win a title, lifting the crown in Ferguson’s swansong.
Premier League Odds suggests the Reds might have to wait another year to replicate that feat.
3) Shinji Okazaki
Like his team-mate and fellow forward Leonardo Ulloa, the forever-bustling Okazaki was an unsung hero of Leicester’s incredible title success in 2015/16, chipping in with six goals, several of which were priceless.
Mainly used in the East Midlands as an impact-sub it should not be overlooked that only two other players have scored more for Japan while he is the only star other than Son Heung-min since 2014 to be awarded the Best Footballer in Asia merit.
Yet still, his biggest achievement will always be the part he played in truly one of the greatest Premier League seasons.
2) Park Ji-sung
Nicknamed ‘Three Lungs’ for his relentless work-rate the South Korean is the most successful Asian player in Premier League history winning four league titles, the Champions League, four League Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup across his seven years at Old Trafford.
Greatly admired by Sir Alex Ferguson for his man-marking capabilities and in-game intelligence, the legendary Scot once pegged Park and Ronny Johnsen as the two players he most trusted throughout his long reign at United.
The midfielder also has the distinction of scoring in three consecutive World Cup finals for his country.
1) Son Heung-min
Over 200 top-flight appearances and seventy-plus goals has cemented the opinion that ‘Sonny’ is one of the best Premier League strikers around.
Spurs spent £22 million to sign Son from Bayer Leverkusen – at the time, a record amount for an Asian footballer – an absolute snip in hindsight.
A fearsome foil for Harry Kane, the South Korean is idolised in his homeland who tune in by the multitude to watch their hero put in the kind of performances that secured him entry into 2020/21’s PFA Premier League Team of the Year.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*
FIRST PUBLISHED: 14th October 2021