AFC Asian International Player of the Year 2016: Shinji Okazaki
Abu Dhabi: Shinji Okazaki has been named the AFC Asian International Player of the Year after excelling for club and country throughout a stellar year that saw the 30-year-old Japan international striker help Leicester City to their fairytale success in winning the English Premier League.
Okazaki beat off competition from compatriot Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) and Korea Republic ace Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur) to land the award Japanese player – following in the footsteps of Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo - to be recognised for their impressive displays for club sides outside of Asia.
Often praised by Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri for his tireless application and hard work and commitment to the cause, Okazaki was a standout performer for Leicester throughout their first-ever title-winning campaign, with the livewire forward scoring five goals in 36 top-flight appearances.
An AFC Asian Cup winner in 2011, Okazaki swapped Asia for Europe immediately after Japan’s continental triumph in Qatar, and went on to shine brightly in Germany thanks to successful spells with both Stuttgart and Mainz,
Okazaki eventually moved to the English Premier League in June 2015 for a fee reported to be in the region of £7million, having netted 37 times for his two Bundesliga employers.
The former Shimizu S-Pulse favourite assimilated quickly and soon became a firm fan favourite at Leicester, His spectacular overhead strike last March against Newcastle United just one of the highlights from a season during which Okazaki became a near ever-present for the East Midlands outfit.
Currently busy helping Leicester defend their Premier League title and a key figure in the club’s run to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, the Takarazuka-born striker has also impressed for Japan as the Samurai Blue continued their bid to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Indeed, Okazaki’s four goals for his country have left Japan handily placed in the ongoing third round of qualifying and within touching distance of a ticket to Russia.