Kuala Lumpur: It’s home to some of the game’s biggest clubs and many of the greatest players, not to mention one of world football’s most compelling rivalries.
La Liga, the top division of Spanish football, holds a place in the consciousness of fans throughout the globe, and it is also a nation which has played host to some standout players from the world’s largest continent.
In increasing numbers, Asian players are flocking to Spain, with some of the continent’s brightest prospects now making it their first port of call in European football.
With La Liga resuming this week, we invite you to decide which Asian player has made the biggest impact in Spanish football.
Here are our nominees:
See also :
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Javad Nekounam (IR Iran)
Top-flight games: 149
Arriving in Spain just prior to his 26th birthday, Nekounam was an instant hit in a side which reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals, only for his progress to be suddenly halted by a serious knee injury.
That made the 2007-08 campaign a near write-off, but he returned to become a fan favourite in the city of Pamplona and regular goal scorer with a habit of netting late winners.
Iran has produced several outstanding players over the years. That no Team Melli player has bettered Nekounam’s 151 caps speaks volumes about his quality and longevity.
Paulino Alcantara (Philippines)
Club: FC Barcelona
Games (pre-Liga): 357
Goals: 369 (142 in official matches)
Honours: 5x Copa del Rey winner, 10x Championat de Catalunya winner
Most football fans would likely be able to guess that Lionel Messi is FC Barcelona’s highest career scorer, but significantly fewer would be aware of the man whose record he overtook.
Born in Iloilo to a Spanish father and a Filipino mother, Paulino Alcantara built a phenomenal goal-scoring record in two spells with Barcelona, helping the club which would become ‘més que un club’ to a swag of titles in the days before the establishment of La Liga.
Alcantara played for the national teams of both the Philippines and Spain – even bursting the net with a goal he scored against France – but it is his legendary status at one of the world’s great clubs which gives him a special place in the history of Asian football.
Takashi Inui (Japan)
2015 - Present
Clubs: Eibar, Real Betis, Deportivo Alavés
Top-flight games: 129
Already well established in both Japan and Germany, Inui joined the small but ambitious Eibar early in their second La Liga season, becoming not only the club’s first ever Asian player, but a consistent performer in his customary left-wing position.
He became the first Japanese player to score against Barcelona, finding the net twice in a 4-2 defeat at Camp Nou in 2017, and played nearly every match as Eibar reached their best ever league finish in the 2017-18 campaign.
A brief spell at Real Betis took Inui back into European competition, and he spent time on loan at Deportivo Alavés, before returning to Eibar at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.
Wu Lei (China PR)
2019 - Present
Top-flight games: 35
The outstanding local player in the Chinese Super League for several seasons prior, Wu Lei has become the modern-day standard bearer for Chinese players in Europe during his 18 months in Catalonia.
He wasn’t the first man from the world’s most populous country to play in La Liga, but he can claim several other milestones, including the first Chinese goalscorer in the league and the first Chinese player to score in the group stage of a European competition.
With 10 goals in just under 50 appearances in all competitions, Wu hasn’t been as prolific as he was for Shanghai SIPG, but his ability to adapt to life in one of the world’s top leagues means his switch from Asia to Europe can be considered a success.
John Aloisi (Australia)
Clubs: Osasuna, Deportivo Alavés
Top-flight games: 154
Honours: Copa del Rey runner-up (2005)
Considered a legend in Australia thanks to a decisive 2005 spot-kick which ended the Socceroos’ 32-year World Cup qualification drought, Aloisi also enjoyed a tremendous club career, particularly in Spain.
Joining Osasuna in 2001, his first league goal made him the only Australian player to score in Serie A, the Premier League and La Liga, and he went to enjoy a stellar four-year spell at the club, playing in a memorable 3-0 away win at Real Madrid in 2004, and scoring in a Copa del Rey final a year later.
Aloisi’s best return in Spanish football came for Alavés in 2006-07, but his double-figure goal-haul couldn’t save the club from relegation, and no Australian outfield player has appeared in the league since.
Masoud Shojaei (IR Iran)
Clubs: Osasuna, Las Palmas
Top-flight games: 101
While Javad Nekounam was the first Iranian player to shine in La Liga, Masoud Shojaei wasn’t far behind, and the duo created a unique Team Melli influence in northern Spain.
Often used as an impact player off the substitute’s bench, Shojaei was a reliable contributor of assists, particularly in his debut season where he created eight goals for his teammates.
A serious injury robbed him of the entire 2011-12 campaign, and his time in Spain finished in the Segunda Division with Las Palmas, but his tally of more than 100 appearances in the top tier outlines his quality as a player.
Who is your favourite Asian player in Spanish football? Vote below (Poll ends at 16:00 UTC +8 on June 18).
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