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Best Asian Football Players of All Time

Tue 30 March 2021 | 17:30

Asia many not be that strong in football as Europe or South America, but that doesn’t mean there have been no great Asian footballers in football history. There are a number of them, however, in this post, we aim to introduce some of the best Asian footballers ever who are more contemporary.

Who are the greatest Asian players in football history? As we already said, in this post, we are to some of the best Asian footballers ever who are more contemporary, but that doesn’t mean the footballers we are going to introduce are not considered as some of the top Asian football players in history.

Let’s call them the most famous Asian football players in history who are more contemporary. And they are majorly from South Korea, Saudia Arabia, and Iran, though we have also footballers from Japan, Australia and Uzbekistan.

The List of the Best Asian Soccer Players of All Time

Here comes the list of the

best Asian soccer players of all time

with 15 top Asian footballers on it. Who might they be? Read on to know.

Mohamed Al-Deayea

The first footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time, Mohamed Al-Deayea is a 48-year-old retired Saudi Arabian goalkeeper who is sometimes considered as the best Asian goalkeeper of all time. In fact, he was named the Best Asian Goalkeeper of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics in 1999 with the Iranian goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi, and the South Korean one, In-Young Choi, behind him on the second and third place, respectively.

Al-Deayea served only two Saudi Arabian clubs during his career: Al-Ta'ee and Al-Hilal, and both almost for the same length; the former actually for 10 years between 1989 and 1999, and the latter for 11 years between 1999 and 2010, however, the number of trophies Al-Deayea won with

Al-Hilal

is not comparable to that of his at Al-Ta'ee: 17 trophies including four Saudi Premier League titles versus only one Saudi First Division title that the retired Saudi Arabian goalkeeper won with Al-Ta'ee.

Al-Deayea also won five national trophies with the Saudi Arabian national team including one AFC Asian Cup and two Gulf Cup of Nations trophies between 1994 and 2005. He has also a handful of individual honors to his name including the Best Goalkeeper of the AFC Asian Cup in 1996 and 2000, and the Best Goalkeeper of the Gulf Cup of Nations in 1998 and 2002. The interesting fact about Al-Deayea is that he was first a handball player, and then was convinced by his brother, Abdullah, to change his path and choose football as a career.

Son Heung-min

The first still-in-the-business and also the first South Korean footballer on our list of

best Asian football players of all time

, Son Heung-min is also the only footballer on the list to have served only European clubs during his career, in fact, to this date (2021). He’s by now 28 years old and plays for the top Premier League, Tottenham, as a forward. He has also served the Bundesliga clubs,

Bayer Leverkusen

and Hamburger SV sometime during his career.

Despite his almost young age and the fact that he has not still culminated in his career,

Son Heung-min

has a number of individual honors to his name; actually more than 40 among which are the Best Footballer in Asia for six years and Premier League Goal of the Season in 2019-20 season.

He was also a Ballon d'Or nominee in 2019; an achievement only few Asian footballers have been honored with, and he is actually the first Asian footballer to have scored more than 50 goals in the Premier League history, and still the top Asian scorer in the Champions League history. With all these honors, he surely deserves to be among the greatest Asian players in football history.

Hong Myung-bo

Here comes the first retired South Korean footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time: Hong Myung-bo. He’s 52 years old by now and except for one season - actually 2003-04 season - that he served the American club, LA Galaxy, he served only Japanese and South Korean clubs during his career, and yet he’s one of the most

famous Asian football players in history

. How is that possible especially considering the fact that he was a defender and scored only 28 goals during his career?

Well, maybe the answer is that Hong Myung-bo is one of the only two Asian footballers on the FIFA 100 list which is actually a list of the greatest living footballers composed by the Brazilian legend, Pele - the other is Hidetoshi Nakata from Japan.

And not only this, Hong Myung-bo is the first Asian footballer to have played in four consecutive FIFA World Cups and also the first Asian footballer who was honored with the World Cup Bronze Ball Award; actually in the 2002 edition of the competition where Hong Myung-bo was the captain of the South Korean national team.

Mehdi Mahdavikia

The first Iranian footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time, Mehdi Mahdavikia is a 43-year old retired footballer who served the two Bundesliga clubs,

Hamburger SV

and Eintracht Frankfurt, other than Iranian clubs during his career.

Although Mahdavikia won the most number of his club trophies with the Iranian top club, Persepolis - actually three top Iranian league, Azadegan, titles, he made the most number of appearances (265) and scored the most number of his career goals (34) for the German club, Hamburger SV. Mahdavikia was named Bundesliga top assist provider in 2002-03 season and he was so good at Hamburger SV that he was named on the German club’s all-time team in 2012.

With 111 appearances for the Iranian national team between 1996 and 2009, Mahdavikia is the fourth most capped Iranian footballer of all time. He is currently a member of AFC Football Advisory Panel of International Football Association Board (IFAB). He also works as a youth coach for Hamburger SV and runs his own football academy named KIA Academy.

Server Djeparov

And here comes the only Uzbek footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time: Server Djeparov. He is currently 38 years old and has retired recently in 2019 after a 19-year career of playing for several Asian clubs including the top Iranian club, Esteghlal, the Saudi Arabian club, Al-Shabab, and the South Korean club,

FC Seoul

.

Although Djeparov won a club trophy or two with some of the teams he served during his career including the ones mentioned above, he won the most number of his career club trophies with the Uzbek club, Pakhtakor; actually 13 trophies including six Uzbek League titles.

Djeparov has also a handful of individual honors to his name including Uzbekistan Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2010, AFC Asian Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2011, and

Persian Gulf Pro League

top assist provider of the Year in 2018. He played as an attacking midfielder and second striker during his career and scored a total of 123 goals in the 328 club appearances that he made during his career which means he scored 1.1 goals in every 3 club appearances.

With 128 international appearances, Djeparov is also the most capped Uzbek footballer of all time to this date. Maybe he’s not as big as names like Son Heung-min in Asia, but he has indeed a place among the

top Asian football players in history

.

Sami Al-Jaber

The first Saudi Arabian footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time, Sami Al-Jaber is a 48-year-old retired forward who served the top Saudi Arabian club, Al-Hilal, for almost all his career. In fact, if he had not served the English club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the Qatari club, Al-Gharafa, for about a year and on loan, we could say he had served Al-Hilal actually for all his career.

Sami Al-Jaber is actually considered as one of the greatest footballers Saudi Arabia has ever produced. He appeared in four consecutive World Cups from 1992 to 2006 in three of which he also scored for his country’s national team. He was also a member of the Saudi Arabian national team who won the AFC Asian Cup in 1996.

Al-Jaber was also a prolific goalscorer at least at club level. He scored a total of 204 goals in the 380 appearances he made during his club career which translates to 1.06 goals in every two appearances. And with 156 international appearances, he actually occupies the 23th position on the list of footballers with most caps ever. We should also note that he scored 46 goals in all these appearances which translates to almost one goal (exactly 0.87) in every 3 appearances.

Tim Cahill

The only Australian footballer on our list of

best Asian football players of all time

, Timothy Filiga Cahill, known better as Tim Cahill, is a 41-year-old recently-retired forward and attacking midfielder who played for 8 clubs during his career including the Premier League club,

Everton

, for whom he actually made the most number of appearances: 278 appearances across all competitions in which he scored 68 goals for the English club which translates to almost one goal (exactly 0.96) in every four appearances.

Cahill’s goal-to-appearance ratio with the Australian national team is better. He actually scored 50 goals for his country’s national team in the 108 appearances that he made for them which translates to almost one goal (exactly 0.92) in every two appearances. And with that number of goals he’s actually the Australian national team top scorer ever. He has also scored the most number of goals scored ever by an Australian footballer (5) in a single editions of World Cup, and he’s the first Australian footballer to have scored in AFC Asian Cup; actually in 2007.

Cahill’s achievements actually don’t limit to what we said above; he has a number of individual awards and records to his name among them are the first Australian footballer to be named a FIFA World Cup man of the match, the first Australian footballer to have scored in three editions of FIFA World Cup, namely 2006, 2010, and 2014 editions of the competition, and Everton top scorer in 2004-05 season.

Majed Abdullah

And here comes the second Saudi Arabian footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time: Majed Abdullah. He’s actually a 62-year-old retired striker who is not only a product of the Saudi Arabian club,

Al-Nassr

, but also served the same club for all his career which lasted from 1977 to 1998.

Before anything else, we should say that Majed Abdullah was one of those prolific and even more than prolific goal scorers during his footballing time. He scored a total of 259 goals in the 266 appearances that he made for Al-Nassr which gets him a goal-to-appearance ratio of 0.97. If he just scored 7 more goals, then we could say he actually scored one goal in every appearance that he made for the Saudi Arabian club, though his current goal-to-appearance ratio, as you see, is almost near one.

Just like Tim Cahill, Majed Abdullah is also the all-time top scorer of his country’s national team, indeed, to this date. He scored 72 goals for the Saudi Arabian national team in the 117 appearances that he made for them between 1977 and 1994. Abdullah has also a number of club and individual honors to his name among them are four Saudi Premier League titles, Saudi Premier League top scorer in 6 seasons, Saudi King Cup top scorer in 1979, 1987, 1989, and 1990, and Arabian Golden Boot in 1981 and 1989. With all his achievements and goals, Majed Abdullah really deserves to be among the

best Asian footballers ever

.

Kim Joo-sung

The first retired South Korean footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time, Kim Joo-sung is a 55-year-old former winger and sweeper who served the South Korean club, Daewoo Royals, for almost all his career. If he had not served the German club,

VfL Bochum

, for two years between 1992 and 1994 and on loan, then we could have said he had served Daewoo Royals for all his career.

Kim Joo-sung made a total of 290 club appearances during his short 12-year career, however, he was so good during this time that he was voted the second Asian Player of the Century by IFFHS (The International Federation of Football History & Statistics) with 93 points after his fellowman, Cha Bum-kun, with 112 points.

Kim Joo-sung made a total of 290 club appearances during his short 12-year career, however, he was so good during this time that he was voted the second Asian Player of the Century by IFFHS (The International Federation of Football History & Statistics) with 93 points after his fellowman, Cha Bum-kun, with 112 points.

Park Ji-sung

The only footballer on our list of

best Asian football players of all time

who has the experience of playing for the top Premier League club, Manchester United. The interesting fact here is that Manchester United is actually the club the 40-year-old retired South Korean midfielder served the most during his career; actually for seven years between 2005 and 2012. So he’s better known as a Manchester United player, though he also served other clubs such as

Queens Park Rangers

and PSV Eindhoven during his career.

They say Park Ji-sung is the most decorated Asian footballer ever with 19 trophies 13 of which he won when at Manchester United. He is also the first Asian footballer to have played in a Champions League final and won it and also the first Asian footballer to have won a FIFA Club World Cup - actually the 2008 edition of the competition - all with the same team he served the most during his career: Man Utd.

Park Ji-sung is actually among the few Asian footballers whose play style resembled that of European footballers, and maybe that’s why he served European clubs for the majority of his career. And at

Manchester United

he was not an often-sidelined player; on the contrary, he was an active member of the team and even was named Manchester United Player of the Month for three months in 2009 and 2010.

He was also named Korean Footballer of the Year in 2010 and AFC Asian Cup Quality Player in 2011, was a Ballon d'Or nominee in 2005, and won the Korean Goal of the Year Award in 2002 and 2010. If you ask us, he’s indeed one of the greatest footballers Asia has ever produced.

Shunsuke Nakamura

The first Japanese footballer on our list of best Asian soccer players of all time, Shunsuke Nakamura is a 42-year-old midfielder who is still in the business despite his age. He currently plays for the Japanese club, Yokohama FC, but also has the experience of playing for the Scottish club,

Celtic

. In fact, the majority of club trophies Nakamura has won has been with the Scottish club; actually six trophies including three Scottish Premier League titles.

Like some other footballers on our list of top Asian football players in history, Nakamura was also a nominee of Ballon d'Or trophy - actually in 2007, though he finished 36th with no points at all. 2006-07 was indeed Nakamura’s shining season: He was named Celtic Player of the Year, Celtic Fans Player of the Year, Scottish PFA Players' Player of the Year, and on the Scottish PFA's Team of the Season in the same season. He also won the Scottish PFA's Goal of the Season in 2006-07 season, and was named Japanese Footballer of the Year in 2000 and 2013.

Ali Karimi

One of the most famous Asian football players in history, Ali Karimi is a 42-year-old retired Iranian attacking midfielder and forward who earned the nickname of “the Wizard” during his career for the top dribbling skills and excellent flexibility that he showed on the pitch. He also excelled at technical skills; actually to the extent that he attracted the attention of the top Bundesliga club,

Bayern Munich

, who finally brought him in in 2005. However, Karimi’s spell with Bayern did not last more than 2 seasons during which he made 33 appearances and scored 3 goals for them.

Karimi won one Bundesliga title and one DFB-Pokal trophy with Bayern in the same season he joined them (2005-06). He also won three club trophies with the top Iranian club, Persepolis, during his career. Karimi has also a number of individual awards to his name including Asian Footballer of the Year and Asian Cup Top Scorer both in 2004, UAE Pro League Top scorer in 2003-04 season, and Iran’s Pro League Top Scoring Midfielder in 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons. He is also chosen as one of the top two Iranian footballers in Iran’s football history by FIFA.

Hidetoshi Nakata

One of the greatest Japanese footballers of all time and maybe even actually the greatest Japanese footballer ever, Hidetoshi Nakata is a 44-year-old retired midfielder who is most famous for serving the Italian club,

Parma

, though he also served other top Italian clubs, namely AS Roma, Fiorentina, and Bologna, during his career. The transfer fee for which Nakata moved to Parma in 2001 was around €2.5 million which was actually a record for an Asian player and remained unbroken for 14 years.

Although Nakata has not won so many club trophies - actually three with Parma, AS Roma, and the Japanese club, Bellmare Hiratsuka, he has some individual honors to his name among them are Golden Foot Legends Award in 2014, Asian Footballer of the Year in 1997 and 1998, and Japan Professional Sports Grand Prize and Japanese Footballer of the Year both in 1997. Don’t forget that Nakata is also one of the only two Asian footballers named on FIFA 100 list composed by the Brazilian legend, Pele.

Cha Bum-kun

Considered as one of the greatest Asian footballers of all time by IFFHS (The International Federation of Football History & Statistics), Cha Bum-kun is a 67-year-old retired South Korean footballer who played as a forward and was famed for his thick thighs and powerful shots during his career. Except for 3 years at the start of his career, Bum-kun served German clubs including Bayer Leverkusen for whom he made the most number of appearances (215) and scored the most number of goals (63) during his career.

With the 58 goals Cha Bum-kun scored for the South Korean national team in the 136 appearances that he made for them between 1972 and 1986, he’s actually South Korea’s top scorer of all time. He was also

Bundesliga

foreign top scorer of all time between 1988 and 1999 with 98 goals, and is still the holder of the record for the youngest player in the world to have reached 100 caps. He actually reached that number of caps when he was 24 years and 139 days old.

Cha Bum-kun is the only footballer among the South Korean footballers on our list of best Asian football players of all time who was inducted into Korean Football Hall of Fame - actually in 2005, and the only footballer on the list who has a few individual honors as a manager to his name including Asian Coach of the Year in 1997, and Korean FA Cup Best Manager in 2009.

Ali Daei

And here comes the only footballer on our list of best Asian football players of all time with a goalscoring world record: He’s the highest international goalscorer of all time with the 109 goals he scored in the 149 appearances that he made for the Iranian national team between 1993 and 2006. Registered in the Guinness Book of Records, Daei’s goalscoring record has not been yet broken even by today’s world top scorers who have scored more than 500 goals at club level; a really huge achievement for an Iranian footballer, if you ask us.

Daei was inducted into Asian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He was also named AFC Asian Footballer of the Year in 1999 and on IFFHS Legends List in 2014. And as a manager, he became the Iranian manager of the year in 2006. He may not have as many individual honors to his name as some of the South Korean footballers already mentioned on the list, however, he’s still considered as one of the

greatest Asian players in football history

; maybe because of his world goalscoring record? Maybe.

Just like his counterpart, Ali Karimi, Daei also served the top Bundesliga club, Bayern Munich, sometime during his career; actually in 1998-99 season where he also managed to win one Bundesliga title and one German League Cup with the Bavarians and also finished as runners-up in the UEFA Champions League with them. Daei is 51 years old by now and has also retired as a manager - the last team he actually served as a manager was the Iranian club, Saipa, and up to the end of 2019.

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