Mon 10 January 2022 | 5:30

Best Young Asian Players in 2021

Although Asian football has never been as entertaining as the European one, during recent years it has improved a lot. Nowadays many brilliant footballers are from Asia are playing in the high-rank leagues. Here, we gather you the top 10 Asian wonderkids in 2021.

Asia is perhaps a continent that too few of people expect it to produce brilliant talents. However, several footballers from the biggest continent of the Earth stand out among the best footballers in Europe, for example,

Son Heung-min

of Tottenham.

Asia has seen outstanding football players during the history of this sport. Some of them have also played in high-rank leagues, therefore their names stand out even beyond the borders of their countries. Now with more youth development for young Asian players, we can enjoy seeing some talented Asian players in action for La Liga and Premier League clubs.

In this article we are going to introduce you 11 players who are regarded as the best young Asian talents last season as we briefly narrate their stories and play styles, and predict whether they can make their way to be among the best Asian football players of all time next to the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata, Ali Daei and Majed Abdullah.

All You Need to Know About Best Young Asian Players in 2021

Nowadays many brilliant footballers are from Asia are playing in the high-rank leagues. We gather you the best young Asian soccer players who are aged less than 21 and are showing promises to develop to higher classes of football.

10. Zidane Iqbal

  • Age: 18

  • Nationality: Iraq

  • Position: Central Midfield

  • League: English Premier League

  • Club: Manchester United

Starting our list of the

best young Asian players in 2021

with Manchester United’s Iraqi prodigy, Zidane Igbal.

Born in Manchester to a Pakistani father and Iraqi mother, Iqbal played for local side Sale United before being scouted and signed by Manchester United in 2012. He signed his first professional contract with Manchester United in April 2021 and made his first-team debut for Manchester United on 8 December 2021 as a substitute in a Champions League match against Young Boys.

With a name like Zidane, most people will already have a style of play in mind when they hear it. As it happens, Iqbal is a creative midfielder, as his legendary namesake. However he is capable of playing in a more conventional central midfield, as a number 10 and also from the right or left of midfield. He is 5ft 11 but slender, with an eye for goal from outside the box

Despite 7 percent of the UK population being made of south Asians, just 11 British south Asians have gone on to play football professionally. A look through line-ups and squad lists throughout the Premier League and Football League suggest that figure is unlikely to rise considerably soon. There are other British South Asians such as Leicester City's Hamza Choudhury on professional contracts in England but there are very few, and certainly none at a club with United's profile and reach. Which could make the breakthrough made by Iqbal at Old Trafford all the more significant.

Being asked about his football idols, Iqbal said:

"Mesut Ozil, because he's a Muslim like me. Just seeing another Muslim footballer is a good thing.

"The journey is different for everyone, and I can tell you it's not easy. It's like a rollercoaster, up and down. You just have to enjoy the ride and whatever's meant to be is meant to be."

9. Gulzhigit Alykulov

  • Age: 20

  • Nationality: Kyrgyzstan

  • Position: Left Winger

  • League: Kazakhstan Premier Liga

  • Club: Kairat Almaty

Among the Top 10 Asian Wonderkids in 2021 was


’s Gulzhigit Alykulov who plays regularly for Kairat Almaty.

A member of the national team since 2019, Alykulov played for the Turkish club Antalyaspor in 2017-18 season before having seasons at Kara-Balta, Alga Bishkek, and Neman Grodno, and despite lack of game time and financial struggles of Kairat, he was one of the best young Asian players in 2021.

On 27 January 2020, FC Kairat announced the signing of Alykulov on a two-year contract, with the option of a third as the teenager, had a splendid debut season at Kairat. In 23 Premier Liga appearances he made last term, he scored 4 goals and provided further 4 assists. He also has played in Champions League Qualification round, Europa League, and Conference League.

In the style of play, he is similar to Lorenzo Insigne with lots of strength in pace, acceleration, dynamism, dribbling, ball control, flair, and agility despite having a small body. For example in a brilliant display against Zhetysu, the Kyrgyz Republic youngster set up his side’s first goal, then scored their second, cutting inside a defender before picking out the bottom corner of the net.

In the winter transfer window, the footballer of the Kyrgyz national team Gulzhigit Alykulov may leave Kairat and move to the foreign championship as the future of the Almaty club in terms of personnel looks uncertain. The midfielder is reportedly concerned about the amount of playing time he received during the second part of the last season.

8. Koki Saito

  • Age: 20

  • Nationality: Japan

  • Position: Second Striker

  • League: Belgium 1B Pro League

  • Club: Lommel SK

One of the

best young Asian soccer players

last season was the former Yokohama FC wonderboy, Koki, who joined Belgian First Division B side, Lommel, in January 2021 for a €2.2m fee. Lommel was bought in May by City Football Group, which owns Premier League powerhouse Manchester City and serves as a feeder club.

A versatile attacker with impressive dribbling skills and tactical awareness, Saito made his professional debut with

Yokohama FC

in the J. League second-division in July 2018, a month before turning 17.

Used both as a winger and second striker by manager Takahiro Shimotaira, Saito scored six goals in 29 J2 games with Yokohama FC in 2019 ahead of this year’s return to the top flight.

Scoring three goals in 24 J1 matches for Yokohama FC in 2020, he continued his form in his new side as well by scoring further four goals and providing two assists in a total of 24 appearances.

The price tag also immediately shows the potential and confidence in the young attacker. The City Football Group, the majority shareholder of Lommel SK, also has a share in Yokohama Marinos, fellow townsman of Saito's ex-team. Of the Japanese players yet to make the jump to European leagues, Saito doesn’t carry much name recognition. However, his dribbling ability in one-versus-one situations and above-average finishing instincts could surely find him a home in our list of the best young Asian players in 2021.

7. Oston Urunov

  • Age: 21

  • Nationality: Uzbekistan

  • Position: Attacking Midfield

  • League: Russian Premier Liga

  • Club: FK Ufa (On loan from Spartak Moscow)

Continuing through the

Top 10 Asian Wonderkids in 2021

, we find Uzbekistan international Oston Urunov, who after an upsetting term with Spartak Moscow returned to Ufa on another season-long loan, with an option to purchase on 19 August 2021.

In the summer of 2020, Oston Urunov burst into the RPL like a hurricane: an unknown midfielder taken by Ufa from Uzbekistan and after playing only 10 matches in Russia he attracted the interest of the Russian elite clubs, Spartak, CSKA, Lokomotiv, and Krasnodar.

For six months, Urunov played only 8 league matches for Spartak, scored the only goal for Rodina in the Cup. Two scandals heavily affected Urunov’s career at Spartak, first a photo with purchases from TSUM and second talks considering his age.

In Ufa, Urunov was greeted with humor, in his place in the locker room there was a box of the Louis Vuitton brand. Urunov came on as a substitute during the first match of Ufa in 2021. His team lost, but Oston hinted that he was ready to return to the summer level, he became one of the best in the team in terms of passing accuracy and in terms of dribbling. Everything looks as if a traditional plot is being repeated - a player who has failed to prove himself in Spartak is revealed after the transfer. However, it is too early to talk about this as he had only made 7 league appearances this term so far.

6. Mohanad Ali

  • Age: 21

  • Nationality: Iraq

  • Position: Centre-Forward

  • League: Greek Super League 1

  • Club: Aris Thessaloniki

Next in our list of the

best young Asian players in 2021

is Iraq’s pride, Mohanad Ali, who plays as a forward for Super League Greece club


, on loan from Qatari club Al-Duhail,

Starting his senior career with Al-Shorta, Ali’s competitive debut for the club was under Brazilian coach Lorival Santos in the 2013–14 Iraqi Premier League wearing the number 26 shirt, being substituted onto the field on 85 minutes in the Baghdad Derby against Al-Talaba on 26 March 2014, making him the youngest player to represent Al-Qitharah in the club's history at 13 years and 279 days old.

On 15 July 2019, he transferred to Qatari side Al-Duhail for a reported fee of €1.80m. He scored his first goal with a solo effort after dribbling past Kara Mbodji and George Kwasi in the 89th minute on 3 October in a 2–1 home win against Al-Sailiya

Making 19 Stars League appearances in the 2020-21 season, Ali contributed 7 goals and three assists, making him a hot prospect for European clubs.

On 31 August 2021, Ali was loaned to Super League Greece side Aris Thessaloniki F.C. in the form of a one-year loan and with a purchase option from Al-Duhail. Sadly, after only a few games, Ali damaged his cruciate ligaments, causing him to be sidelined for at least 6 months.

Ali’s official international debut for Iraq came against Bahrain in the 23rd Arabian Gulf Cup on 23 December 2017. He was nominated by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as one of the top young talents in 2019. After his performance at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification, he was voted as the 2019 West Asian Footballer of the Year and was also included in the Chinese newspaper Titan Sports "Best Footballer in Asia 2019", which listed 26 of best footballers.

4. Yukinari Sugawara

  • Age: 21

  • Nationality: Japan

  • Position: Right-Back

  • League: Eredivisie

  • Club: AZ Alkmaar

Next in our list of the best young Asian players in 2021 is AZ Alkmaar's


fullback, Yukinari Sugawara.

Starting his senior career at Nagoya Grampus, he became the second-youngest player to appear in the J1 League match ever at 17 years, 7 months, and 27 days making his debut against Gamba Osaka on 24 February 2018.

After a couple of seasons in Japan’s first tier, Sugawara joined Dutch Eredivisie club AZ on 21 June 2019 on a season-long loan. At AZ he was mainly utilized as a right-back, where he competed with the older Jonas Svensson and was set to become his future successor. Both in the league and group stage of the 2019–20 UEFA Europa League, Sugawara served as a regular rotational player during the season. During this season he played 16 league games in which he scored two goals. His contract became permanent on 23 February 2020 as it was announced that Sugawara would sign a five-year contract.

He made 25 Eredivisie appearances in the 2020-21 season and contributed 2 goals and 1 assist. He started the new season sharply as well as he has already provided two assists across 18 matches.

This season, the Japanese has been playing instead of Albert Gudmundsson, hanging on the right flank. Because he is originally a right-back, he thinks like a defender. Moreover, he brings more breadth to AZ’s game there and he has an excellent cross, also from the position, players like Pavlidis and De Wit benefit.

3. Allahyar Sayyadmanesh

  • Age: 20

  • Nationality: Iran

  • Position: Centre-Forward

  • League: Turkish Super Lig

  • Club: Fenerbahce SK

Next in our list of the best young Asian players in 2021 is the Iranian striker, Sayyadmanesh, who plays as a forward for Ukrainian Premier League club Zorya Luhansk on loan from



Starting his career at Arash Amol, where he was the top goalscorer in Iran's under-10 league, on 3 May 2019, Sayyadmanesh signed a five-year contract with Turkish club Fenerbahçe in an $850,000 transfer after a brilliant spell at the Iranian side, Esteghlal.

Across the past two seasons with Zorya, the Iranian striker scored 15 goals in 50 appearances in addition to providing 7 assists. These performances made the Iranian rising star Allahyar Sayyadmanesh was chosen in the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) Men’s Youth (U20) AFC Team of the Year 2021.

Recently it’s been reported that Belgian top-flight football club Anderlecht has set its sight on signing Iranian winger Allahyar Sayyadmanesh. Sayyadmanesh has recently returned to his parent club Fenerbahce but the Belgian team wants to sign the player in the winter transfer window and the Iranian is eager to rise through the ranks of the best young Asian soccer players.

Speaking to the Iranian press, the 20-year-old player said, "Vincent Kompany met with my manager and me. He wants me to Anderlecht. Negotiations between Anderlecht and Fenerbahce are ongoing. Hull City also wants to make a contract with me, but I prefer to work with Kompany."

2 Takefusa Kubo

  • Age: 20

  • Nationality: Japan

  • Position: Righ-Winger

  • League: La Liga

  • Club: RCD Mallorca

Born in Kawasaki on June 4, 2001, he kicked the ball for FC Persimmon, Kawasaki Frontale, Barcelona, and FC Tokyo at the youth level. Takefusa Kubo signed his first professional contract with FC Tokyo senior side in 2015. The 15 years old sensation made his professional debut in the game against Hiroshima which Tokyo lost 2-1. By playing in the game, Kubo became the youngest player ever to play at J-League with 15 years, 5 months, and one day. However, he was loaned to Yokohama F. Marinos in 2018 before signing a contract with

Real Madrid


Kubo put on great performances in the Real Madrid Pre-season tour in USA and Germany. Despite his fine form, the club sent him on multiple loan spells. This Japanese footballer played for Real Mallorca, Villarreal CF, and Getafe CF under a loan from 2019 until 2021 and he is currently kicking the ball for Real Mallorca, again on Real Madrid’s loan.

Takefusa Kubo is a talented attacking midfielder famous for his dribbling and passing abilities. He gets into good positions in the final third of the pitch and is capable of scoring goals and providing assists.

Kubo is always on the move, picking up pockets of space on the pitch. He gets about the pitch well but it is his creativity, intelligence in and out of possession, and his trickery on the ball and dribbling skills that catches the eye.

Taking steps to become among the

best Asian football players of all time

, Kubo is a very versatile player. Although his main position on the field is the right-winger, he has played at either side of the midfield line as well. During his career, Kubo has played 42 games as a right-winger, 19 games as an attacking midfielder. He has also played 17 games as a right midfielder and 14 games as a second striker.

1. Lee Kang-in

  • Age: 20

  • Nationality: South Korea

  • Position: Attacking Midfielder

  • League: La Liga

  • Club: RCD Mallorca

Topping our list of the

best young Asian players in 2021

is Mallorca’s Lee Kang-in, who plays as an attacking midfielder in La Liga. After being on the transfer list during the entire pre-season due to Valencia’s financial struggle, Lee terminated his contract with Valencia on 29 August 2021 and joined fellow La Liga club Mallorca on a free transfer.

Born in Incheon on 19 February 2001, Lee kicked the ball for Incheon United, Flyings FC, and Valencia during his junior career. In 2017, his senior career started and this Asian footballer played for The Bats until 2021. Lee then joined his current club, Real Mallorca.

He joined Valencia in 2018 and became at the age of 17, became the youngest Korean footballer to debut professionally in Europe. This 20-year-old footballer made his debut in October 2018, starting and playing against CD Ebro in the Copa del Rey, and won the Copa del Rey title in the 2018/19 season with Valencia and reached 2nd place in the FIFA U-20 World Cup with South Korea.

Lee Kang-in

was included in the best XI of the Toulon Tournament in 2018 and the next year, he became the Asian footballer of the year and the nominee of the Kopa Trophy. Lee also achieved the FIFA U-20 World Cup Golden Ball in 2019.

He also began to play for his national team On 5 September 2019, in a 2–2 draw friendly match against Georgia as a starter. Lee was announced as an Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 2019 by AFC but it wasn't enough for him. He also won the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup's Golden Ball award that year and proved that he is really powerful despite his young age.

Lee has also won some individual honors including Toulon Tournament Best XI in 2018, FIFA U-20 World Cup Golden Ball in 2019, Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 2019, Kopa Trophy nominee in 2019, and Korean Young Footballer of the Year in 2019. Showing promises to become one of the best Asian football players of all time.

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