Five of the greatest ever ACL number 10s
Kuala Lumpur: As we mark 10 years since the historic revamp of the AFC Champions League in 2009, we celebrate five of the greatest number 10s in the competition's history.
Since its inception in 2002, the AFC Champions League has delivered endless moments of magic. Some of the biggest names in Asian football introduced themselves to the continent through this competition, and amongst them were some mesmerising talents who left a lasting legacy through their playmaking and scoring talents.
From multiple-time winners to record breaking scorers, we celebrate five players who added to the glamour and mystique of the number 10 shirt in the AFC Champions League.
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Perhaps the most iconic AFC Champions League player not to have won the title, Omar Abdulrahman has appeared in all but one edition of Asia’s premier club competition since making his debut in 2010. In this period, he rose from a talented youngster to Asia’s best player, being the 2016 AFC Player of the Year.
In his eight seasons playing AFC Champions League football, the Emirati playmaker has scored 19 goals and created further 30. His trademark defence-splitting passes helped teammate Asamoah Gyan win the top goal scorer award in the 2014 edition in which Al Ain reached the semi-finals.
Abdulrahman came closest to lifting the coveted trophy in 2016, when he captained Al Ain to the final, but the Emirati club lost to Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-1 on aggregate. The elegant midfielder was still named the competition’s MVP after an incredible campaign saw him rack up eight man-of-the-match awards in 12 games.
Another left-footed midfielder with a similarly graceful style making this list is Urawa Red Diamonds captain Yosuke Kashiwagi. The 30-year-old is one of few players who have been crowned Asian champions at both club and national team levels, having won the 2011 AFC Asian Cup with Japan and adding the AFC Champions League title with Urawa six years later.
Kashiwagi joined Urawa from fellow J-League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2010. Three years later, he made his AFC Champions League. In his first campaign, the playmaker played all six group games and scored in his second game, against Thailand’s Muanthong United, but Urawa finished third, exiting the competition at the group stage.
In 2016, Urawa advanced past the group stage for the first time since 2008. Their progress was halted in the Round of 16 after they were beaten by FC Seoul in a penalty shoot-out. Kashiwagi’s real breakthrough campaign came in 2017 when he propelled Urawa to continental glory for the second time in their history with an impressive run of performances that saw him create five goals and score one to earn the MVP award.
Mohammed Al Shalhoub
No active footballer at the top level of Asian club football boasts as rich a history in different Asian competitions as Al Hilal’s Mohammed Al Shalhoub. The legacy of the diminutive playmaker transcends generations to prove age is truly just a number and that loyalty and footballing success can go hand-in-hand by winning trophies locally and continentally, while never changing the blue colours of his beloved Al Hilal.
Al Shalhoub started from the very top, winning continental trophies as a teenager at the turn of the century. He was part of the Al Hilal side that won the 2000 Asian Club Championship and added the Asian Super Cup title in the same year, playing alongside the likes of Sami Al Jaber and Mohammed Al Deayea.
Fast forward a decade and a half, Al Shalhoub was playing under Al Jaber, now a coach, in the 2014 AFC Champions League in which he competed in another continental final. This time around, Al Hilal lost to Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 on aggregate. In between the two finals, Al Shalhoub won an Asian Cup Winners Cup title in 2002 and made over 70 AFC Champions League appearances. He has since reached the final again in 2017, only to lose to Urawa Red Diamonds. Overall, Al Shalhoub appeared in 14 of the 16 AFC Champions League editions contested to date.
Few non-Asian players have enjoyed the durability and impact that Dejan Damjanoic has had in Asian football. The Montenegrin first arrived on the continent through the gates of Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia back in 2006.
More than a decade later, and at the age of 37, he is still going strong with over 60 AFC Champions League matches under his belt and 32 goals in the competition, the bulk of which were in the colours of FC Seoul where he spent eight seasons in two stints.
Damjanovic’s best performance in a continental campaign came in 2013 when he bagged five goals in the Knockout Stage, including two in the final and two against his former club Al Ahli in the quarter-finals. Despite his best efforts, FC Seoul’s number 10 suffered heartbreak as his side lost the final to Guangzhou Evergrande on away goals. There was consolation for Damjanovic as he was named the best player in the final and was selected in the competition’s dream team.
Now plying his trade at Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Damjanovic continues to impress. His five goals in this year’s AFC Champions League have fired the team into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2011. An all-Korean clash against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the last eight is an opportunity for the veteran to further cement his status as one of the greatest number 10s in the competition’s history.
The veteran midfielder will go down in history as one of the greatest players to have ever emerged from China PR. A century of international appearances and an impressive two-year stint in English football with Charlton Athletic are testament to his quality, but his longevity and success in the AFC Champions League put him on a different level as an icon of the competition.
Zheng’s AFC Champions League career started brightly as his five goals in the 2005 group stage fired Shandong Luneng Taishan into the quarter-finals after they became the first team in the competition’s history to win all six group stage matches. The campaign would end in disappointment for Zheng and co after they were eliminated by eventual winners Al Ittihad and Zheng received a six-month ban for unsporting behaviour.
Following his European adventure, the midfielder returned to the AFC Champions League in 2012 in the colours of Guangzhou Evergrande. His eight years in Guangzhou have been incredibly successful, as he led the club to two AFC Champions League titles in 2013 and 2015 and was named in the competition’s team of the year on both occasions. In 2013, he was named the AFC Player of the Year. His continental record is now approaching 70 AFC Champions League matches and he continues to be an important part of the Guangzhou Evergrande set-up even at the age of 37.
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