Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
As the AFC 60th Anniversary Celebrations and 2014 AFC Annual Awards ceremony reaches the 20 days to go marker, the-afc.com looks back at the AFC Player of the Year winners, an award that recognises the continent’s standout superstar and an eagerly anticipated fixture on the Asian Football calendar since its inception 20 years ago.
There were awards given out before but to all intents and purposes it was in 1994, the year that marked the confederation’s 40th anniversary, that the AFC Annual Awards was truly established, with the Player of the Year undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the annual celebration of the content’s finest footballers, teams, coaches and officials.
Fittingly it was the architect of one of the most memorable moments in Asian football history that would be the recipient of the first AFC Player of the Year Award with Saudi Arabia’s Saeed Owairan, scorer of what is considered one of the greatest goals World Cup goals ever in the Kingdom’s USA ‘94 win over Belgium, who had the honour of being the first recipient of the prestigious individual accolade.
It’s easy to assume that the AFC Player of the Year Award would go to the goal scorers who, as Owairan’s superb solo effort in Washington would suggest, shine in the spotlight and more often than not hog the headlines, but the following year’s recipient was a classy and confident defender, with Yokohama Marinos’ legendary sweeper Masami Ihara becoming Japan’s first recipient.
After Iran icon Khodadad Azizi, MVP at that year’s AFC Asian Cup, received the 1996 AFC Player of the Year Award Japan’s Hidetoshi Nakata, arguably Asia’s first truly-global football superstar, became the first player receive win back-to-back accolades, winning in 1997 while still at Bellmare Hiratsuka and again a year later when he was blazing a trail in Europe with Italian side Perugia.
Iran legend Ali Daei denied Nakata an unprecedented hat-trick of awards but the 1999 AFC Player of the Year Awards marked the first time the a female player was in contention, with Sun Wen’s inspirational display at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, where she emerged as MVP and top scorer, earning the Steel Roses stalwart the deserved recognition.
At the turn of the millennium the AFC Player of the Year Award was in the hands of a Saudi Arabian star, as Al Hilal’s mercurial midfielder Nawaf Al Temyat took the top honour in 2000, six years after compatriot Owairan made history as the first ever recipient.
Fan Zhiy made history the following year as China’s first recipient before Japan’s Shinji Ono created another milestone moment in the evolution of the AFC Annual awards when he became the first individual to have won both the AFC Player of the Year and the AFC Youth Player of the Year, which he won in 1998 while at Urawa Reds.
It didn’t take long for this feat to be matched with 1997’s best youth player Mehdi Mahdavikia following in the footsteps of Ono and winning the 2003 AFC Player of the Year prize and after Mahdavikia’s Team Melli team-mate Ali Karimi become the fourth Iranian to claim the prize Saudi Arabia’s Hamad Al Montashari (2005) and Qatar star Khalfan Ibrahim (2006) added their name to the roll of honour.
Not surprisingly, it is on the continent’s biggest stages on which the biggest stars shine and the AFC Asian Cup and the AFC Champions League represent the most fertile ground for AFC Player of the Year candidates.
In 2007, Iraq created one of their most memorable moments in Asian football history when, despite their homeland in social upheaval, they defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win the AFC Asian Cup. Iraq skipper Younis Mahmoud was his country’s hero by scoring the winning goal but it was his Saudi counterpart Yasser Al Qahtani that would gain a modicum of revenge when he was given the nod for the 2007 AFC Player of the Year.
A year after Al Qahtani became Saudi Arabia’s seventh recipient of Asia’s greatest individual accolade, Server Djeparov became Uzbekistan’s first and after receiving the award for his standout displays for Bunyodkor and the Uzbek national team in 2008. Three years later the superbly skilful Server was celebrating becoming the second two-time Player of the Year after Nakata following his instrumental role in helping Uzbekistan reach the semi-finals of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup – the Central Asians’ best ever finish – and Korean club FC Seoul make it to the last-eight of that year’s ACL.
Either side of Djeparov’s triumphs there were AFC Player of the Year wins for Japan’s Yasuhito Endo (2009) and Seongnam’s 2010 AFC Champions League-winning captain Sasa Ognenovski, who etched his name in the annals of Asian football history as Australia’s first-ever recipient.
While Ognenovski in 2010 and to a lesser extent Djeparov the following year, earned recognition for their superb displays plying their trade for Korean clubs in the AFC Champions League, no Korean player had ever been awarded Asian football’s highest accolade.
That was to change in 2012 when Lee Kuen-ho claimed the prize after his stellar displays in Ulsan Hyundai’s victorious AFC Champions League campaign before China’s Zheng Zhi became the most recent AFC Player of the Year for a similarly influential role in Guangzhou Evergrande’s 2013 ACL triumph.
AFC Player of the Year Award winners:
2014 To be announced in Manila on November 30
2013 Zheng Zhi (CHN)
2012 Lee Keun-ho (KOR)
2011 Server Djeparov (UZB)
2010 Sasa Ognenovski (AUS)
2009 Yasuhito Endo (JPN)
2008 Server Djeparov (UZB)
2007 Yasser Al Qahtani (KSA)
2006 Khalfan Ibrahim (QAT)
2005 Hamad Al Montashari (KSA)
2004 Ali Karimi (IRN)
2003 Mehdi Mahdavikia (IRN)
2002 Shinji Ono (JPN)
2001 Fan Zhiyi (CHN)
2000 Nawaf Al Temyat (KSA)
1999 Ali Daei (IRN)
1998 Hidetoshi Nakata (JPN)
1997 Hidetoshi Nakata (JPN)
1996 Khodadad Azizi (IRN)
1995 Masami Ihara (JPN)
1994 Saeed Owairan (KSA)