Asia has a long history of nurturing talent in a variety of sports. However, Asia’s modern football culture is still evolving; the AFC Champions League has grown in popularity, and the Chinese Super League’s international image has risen thanks to high-profile star signings. Despite this, Asia continues to lag well behind Europe and South America in terms of overall quality. Some players on this list of the greatest Asian footballers of all time have made it because they have risen to the challenge of improving their game in order to make a name for themselves in Europe.
Asia has a proud footballing history, from South Korea’s run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup on home soil to Japan’s win in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
As a result, the region has produced a slew of top-tier footballers who have graced the pitch in Asia and abroad over the years. Here are some of the players who have carved out a space for themselves and made the continent proud.
5. Park Ji-Sung – South Korea
Park Ji-Sung spent the best years of his career with Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary Manchester United side. He was the first Asian player to not only win the UEFA Champions League but also the Club World Cup. He achieved the feat of winning the Champions League in 2008 when the “red devils” beat Chelsea in a breathtaking final.
Before joining Manchester United, he played for PSV Eindhoven. There, he won two Dutch titles as well as other Dutch cups.
Park Ji-Sung has won 19 trophies, including four Premier League crowns, making him the most successful Asian player of all time. In 2005, the midfielder was also nominated for the Ballon d’Or.
The South Korean international has 100 caps for the country and has put the ball in the net 23 times for South Korea. Park Ji-sung was a key player in his team’s 2002 World Cup semifinal appearance. Including that world cup, he also featured in the next two world cups (2006, 2010) and scored in both of them. This also made him the first Asian player to score in three consecutive World Cups. It was absolutely astonishing to play at the highest level for both club and country for such a long time.
4. Son Heung-min – South Korea
Son Heung-min has steadily established himself as one of the best players in the Premier League-and the world-since joining Tottenham in 2015. He played for Hamburger SV and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga before Spurs.
Son became the top Asian goalscorer in Premier League and Champions League history while at Tottenham. He also broke Cha Bum-kun’s record for most goals scored in European competition by a Korean player. A few months ago, Son achieved another remarkable feat, winning his fifth consecutive Best Footballer in Asia award and 7th overall.
In 2019, after fellow countryman Park Ji-sung, he became the second Asian in history to reach and start a UEFA Champions League final in 2019. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2019 and ranked 22nd. In 2020, “Sonaldo” won the Puskas Award for his incredible solo goal against Burnley.
The South Korean national team captain has played in both the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups and is the joint best scorer for his country. Son was also a member of the South Korean side that won gold in the 2018 Asian Games and finished second in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
With all of these accomplishments to his name, the 29-year-old is currently considered among one of the world’s best wingers and one of the greatest Asian footballers of all time.
3. Ali Daei – Iran
Except for Cristiano Ronaldo, no one has scored as many goals in international competition as Ali Daei. The Iranian icon scored 109 goals in 149 international appearances for his country.
Despite having a less illustrious club career than his international one, the forward won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich in 1998/99 and was named Asian Footballer of the Year later that year. He was also the runner-up in the 1999 Champions League final with Bayern.
2. Paulino Alcantara – Philippines
At the age of 15, Alcántara made his Barcelona debut and is still the club’s youngest ever player and goalscorer. He set a club record of 369 goals in just 357 official and friendly matches, which he held for 87 years. The record was finally broken by none other than Lionel Messi in 2014.
In international competition, he represented Catalonia, the Philippines, and Spain. He became a doctor after quitting as a player in 1927, at the age of 31. Between 1931 and 1934, Alcántara worked as a club director for Barcelona. Alcántara became a coach in 1951 and coached Spain for three games.
He is often regarded as FC Barcelona’s first hero. Paulino Alcantara’s name is still cherished by Barcelona fans, and he is the club’s sixth-top scorer with 143 official goals.
1. Cha Bum-kun – South Korea
With 58 goals in 136 games, Cha Bum-kun is South Korea’s all-time leading scorer. In 1978, he moved to Germany from South Korea and signed with SV Darmstadt. A year after joining SV Darmstadt 98, Cha Bum-Kun transferred to Eintracht Frankfurt.
“Cha Boom” appeared in 120 games for Frankfurt, scoring over 40 goals and winning the UEFA Cup in his debut season. Sir Alex described Cha as “unstoppable” after his performance against Sir Alex Ferguson’s team.
After that, he moved to Bayern Leverkusen in 1983. He went on to make 185 appearances for Bayern Leverkusen, scoring 52 goals and winning the UEFA Cup for the second time in the 1987/88 season.
His exploits earned him the title of Asian Player of the Century during the course of his 13-year career.
5 Greatest Asian Footballers Of All Time
|1||Cha Bum-kun||South Korea||Striker||1978-1989|
|4||Son Heung-min||South Korea||Forward||2010-Present|
|5||Park Ji-sung||South Korea||Midfielder||2000-2014|
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