Kuala Lumpur: For more than 40 years, Asian players have starred in Germany’s Bundesliga. From pioneers like Okudera and Cha to modern-day icons like Mahdavikia and Kagawa, some of Asia’s greatest footballing names have been made not only in national team colours, but also in packed stadiums from Bremen to Bavaria.
But who was the greatest of them all?
As Germany says ‘willkommen zurück’ to its top football competition, join the-AFC.com in helping to choose, from the following 10 nominees, Asia’s greatest Bundesliga player.
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Cha Bum-kun (Korea Republic)
Clubs: SV Darmstadt 98, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen
Honours: UEFA Cup (1979-80, 1987-88), DFB Pokal (1980-81)
A world-class talent with 58 international goals to his name before he even arrived at Darmstadt in 1978, Cha enjoyed an outstanding Bundesliga career and won European silverware with both Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, scoring a crucial goal for the latter in the 1987-88 UEFA Cup final against Espanyol.
Korea Republic’s first Bundesliga representative, his double-figure league goal tallies in six of seven seasons from 1979 to 1986 helped him become the highest scoring foreign player in league's history - a record he held for more than a decade before it was finally broken in 1998.
Those exploits made Cha not only one of the Bundesliga’s biggest stars in the 1980s, but one of Asia’s greatest players in any era.
Mehdi Mahdavikia (IR Iran)
Clubs: VfL Bochum, Hamburger SV, Eintracht Frankfurt
Honours: AFC Player of the Year (2003), Hamburger SV Team of the Century
Introduced to German football by Bochum following IR Iran’s appearance at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, it was Mahdavikia’s eight fruitful seasons in Hamburg which cemented the winger/full-back as a Bundesliga star.
A provider of more than 50 Bundesliga assists – leading the league with 14 in 2002-03 and backing up with another nine the following season – Mahdavikia helped his club to regular European appearances and won admiration throughout the continent for his attacking qualities.
Yasuhiko Okudera (Japan)
Clubs: FC Köln. Werder Bremen
Honours: Bundesliga (1977-78), DFB Pokal winner (1977-78)
A pioneering midfielder of the 1970s and 80s, Okudera was the first player from Japan to play in Germany’s top league, and the first from Asia to appear in the European Cup
Far from just making up the numbers, Okudera was a regular fixture in two excellent sides across separate decades, winning the league and cup in the all-conquering Köln outfit of 1978, and finishing as a Bundesliga runner-up on three occasions with Werder Bremen.
He returned to Japan in 1986 after nearly a decade in Germany, leading Furukawa Electirc FC to an Asian Club Championship title in Riyadh later that year.
Ashkan Dejagah (IR Iran)
Clubs: Hertha BSC, VfL Wolfsburg
Honours: Bundesliga (2008-09)
Born in Tehran and raised in Berlin, Dejagah was a regular German youth international in his teens before becoming a star in the Bundesliga, as well as the Iranian national team, in his twenties.
A scorer and provider of goals from midfield, Dejagah is one of three Asian players to have helped Felix Magath’s unheralded Wolfsburg outfit from fifth place to a surprise title in 2008-09, and also made a name for himself in the English Premier League with Fulham.
Makoto Hasebe (Japan)
Clubs: VfL Wolfsburg, FC Nürnberg, Eintracht Frankfurt
Honours: Bundesliga (2008-09), DFB Pokal winner (2017-18), AFC International Player of the Year (2018)
The first Japanese player to sign for VfL Wolfsburg, Hasebe became the second man from his country to win the Bundesliga when he claimed the title alongside Dejagah in Wolfsburg’s superb 2008-09 campaign.
Since then Hasebe has been an ever-reliable, and almost ever-present fixture in the league, winning AFC International Player of the Year following Eintracht Frankfurt’s Cup-winning 2018-19 campaign and remaining a regular contributor at the ripe old age of 36.
Koo Ja-cheol (Korea Republic)
Clubs: VfL Wolfsburg, FC Augsburg, Mainz 05
Technically sound, exceptionally versatile and the first Korean footballer to wear the captain’s armband for a Bundesliga club, Koo Ja-cheol left a distinct and lasting impression across nine seasons’ in Germany’s top-flight.
Signed by Wolfsburg in January 2011, the midfielder’s biggest contribution came across two stints at FC Augsburg, where he made 140 top-flight appearances and earned a place in the club’s fan-voted All-time XI in 2020.
Vahid Hashemian (IR Iran)
Clubs: Hamburger SV, VfL Bochum, Bayern Munich, Hannover 96
Honours: Bundesliga (2004-05), DFB Pokal (2004-05), DFB Ligapokal (2004)
One of several Iranian stars who made Germany home in the late 90s and early 2000s, Hashemian played for four clubs, including nine league appearances for title-winning Bayern Munich in 2004-05, but his best football came during his time at VfL Bochum.
After helping them to promotion from the second tier two seasons prior, Hashemian’s 16 league goals during the 2003-04 campaign took him to fourth on the scoring charts and helped Bochum to fifth on the league table – equalling their best ever Bundesliga finish.
Shinji Kagawa (Japan)
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Honours: Bundesliga (2010-11, 2011-12), DFB Pokal (2011-12, 2016-17), Bundesliga Team of the Season (2015-16)
Several Asian players have won league titles in Germany, but few can claim to have played as significant a role as Kagawa did in Dortmund’s successful 2011-12 campaign.
The former Cerezo Osaka man scored 13 league goals – only Robert Lewandowski contributed more to Dortmund’s cause - and led the club for assists with nine, earning him a place alongside Xavi and Andrea Pirlo in the midfield for European Sports Media’s 2011-12 European Team of the Season.
A transfer to Manchester United, and a second spell at Dortmund followed, with Kagawa’s final haul of two league and two cup trophies in Germany a fitting reward for his dazzling exploits.
Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)
Clubs: Hamburger SV, Bayer Leverkusen
Honours: Bundesliga’s Hamburger SV All-time XI
Widely recognised as one of Asia’s very best contemporary footballers, Son’s first steps as a professional came in Germany, where he starred in the first half of the 2010s.
He scored his first Bundesliga goal at 18, earned comparisons with Cha Bum-kun later that year, and was recognised as one of the best Asian players anywhere by his early 20s, delivering on his vast potential to become a key figure at Hamburg, then Bayer Leverkusen.
Five goals in Leverkusen’s first six UEFA Champions League matches in 2014-15 – and 17 in all competitions that season - hastened a transfer to Tottenham Hotspur, where he has further underlined his status as one of Asia’s greatest footballing exports.
Ali Daei (IR Iran)
Clubs: Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich, Hertha BSC
Honours: Bundesliga (1998-99), DFB Ligapokal (1998-99), AFC Player of the Year (1999)
Famous the world over for his exceptional goal-scoring record in international football. Daei also played a pioneering role in the club game as one of several Iranian stars to make the move to Germany in the late 1990s.
While he wasn’t as prolific in the Bundesliga as he was for the national team, Daei still experienced several memorable highs.
He was part of the Bayern squad which won the league title in 1999 and scored against both AC Milan and Chelsea, twice, in the following season’s UEFA Champions League before returning to Asia in 2002.
The poll is now closed. Thank you for voting.
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