Asian Icons

Asia’s Greatest Premier League Players

Kuala Lumpur: It’s one of the most popular sporting competitions in the world, and it has been adorned by some of Asia’s finest footballing exports.

It is the country that brought football to the world, and several stars from the world’s largest continent have made England a second home.

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Six clubs have won the English Premier League since its inception and all of them have, at some point, featured players from AFC member nations, with players from Korea Republic, Japan and Australia all winning league titles.

There have been pioneers, Ballon d’Or nominees, prolific goal scorers and outstanding shot stoppers, but who is the greatest of them all?

Park Ji-sung (Korea Republic)
Clubs: Manchester United, Queens Park Rangers
Games: 154
Goals: 19

Honours: 4x Premier League winner, 3x League Cup winner, 4x Community Shield winner, UEFA Champions League (2007-08), FIFA Club World Cup (2008)

One of Asia’s most decorated footballers of all-time, Park is certainly the continent’s most successful in the English game when it comes to trophies won.

Four league titles and a hand in a UEFA Champions League triumph in 2008 speaks volumes about a player who was cherished at Old Trafford for his energy, reliability and class during eight fruitful seasons.

Sir Alex Ferguson had a galaxy of stars to choose from during Park’s time in Manchester, that the Korean midfielder became such a key figure is a testament to his quality.

Shinji Okazaki (Japan)
Club: Leicester City
Games: 114
Goals: 14
Honours: Premier League (2015-16), AFC International Player of the Year (2016)

He wasn’t the first Japanese player to win the Premier League – that honour went to Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United three years earlier – but Shinji Okazaki’s achievement of playing nearly every game as Leicester City claimed the most unexpected of titles was a mighty one.

The former Stuttgart and Mainz man played all but two of Leicester’s 38 league fixtures, adding goals at crucial moments as Claudio Ranieri’s unheralded side pulled off one of the English game’s most stunning achievements.

He was voted AFC International Player of the Year later that year, and went on to appear more than 100 times in four seasons for the Foxes before moving on to Spain.

Tim Cahill (Australia)
Club: Everton
Games: 226
Goals: 56
Honours: Ballon d’Or nominee (2006)

After starting life in England as teenage apprentice at third-tier Millwall, Cahill carved out an outstanding career for Everton, only finishing outside the top eight once in his eight seasons on Merseyside.

A fierce competitor and a regular goal-scorer with a penchant for finding the net on derby day against Liverpool, ‘Tiny Tim’ made a stellar contribution and became a beloved figure at Goodison Park.

Despite being a midfielder, Cahill led Everton’s scoring charts in three league campaigns, with only Romelu Lukaku and Duncan Ferguson scoring more league goals for the club during the Premier League era.

Sun Jihai (China PR)
Club: Manchester City
Games: 123
Goals: 3

A winner of two Chinese league titles before the age of 20, Sun’s first taste of English football came a level below the Premier League – and alongside countryman Fan Zhiyi - with Crystal Palace in 1998-99.

He stayed for one season on that occasion, but his second stint in England produced six seasons of top-flight football, and several ground-breaking achievements, at Manchester City.

The first player from his country to score in the Premier League when he found the net against Birmingham City in October 2002, Sun’s pioneering role as a first-team regular showed Chinese players had the ability to thrive in one of the world’s biggest leagues.

Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Games: 151
Goals: 51
Honours: 3x AFC International Player of the Year, Ballon d’Or nominee (2019)

Already a hot prospect after five impressive years in Germany, Son has gone to a brilliant new level since his 2015 arrival in London, becoming the modern standard-bearer for Asian footballers in Europe.

The winner of three AFC International Player of the Year awards in the past five years, the 27-year-old’s 75 goals in the past four seasons in all competitions have made a star of world renown.

Son played a key role in Tottenham’s road to the UEFA Champions League Final in 2018-19, winning the club’s Player of the Year Award and hitting the 20-goal mark, including four in Europe - all coming in the knockout stage.

Son passed the 50-goal milestone in the Premier League with two goals against Aston Villa in February.

Harry Kewell (Australia)
Clubs: Leeds United, Liverpool
Games: 274
Goals: 57
Honours: UEFA Champions League (2004-05), FA Cup (2005-06), PFA Young Player of the Year

The fabulously talented Kewell gave defenders nightmares and scored all manner of goals during his time in England, with only injury preventing him from reaching even greater heights.

A stunning return of 17 goals and 20 assists in all competitions as a 21-year-old earned Kewell the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in the 1999-00 season, and he played a key role as Leeds reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals the following year.

The Sydney-sider would later win the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool, also lifting the 2006 FA Cup before departing for Galatasaray in 2008.

Ki Sung-yueng (Korea Republic)
Clubs: Swansea City, Sunderland, Newcastle United
Games: 187
Goals: 15
Honours: League Cup (2012-13), Swansea City Player of the Season (2014-15)

Already a title-winner with Celtic in Scotland, Korea Republic’s Ki enjoyed a terrific career in the English game, making nearly 200 appearances and becoming a regular at three separate clubs.

A midfielder by trade, Ki helped Swansea City to the only major trophy in the club’s 108-year existence when he played as a central defender during the 2013 League Cup Final, but a terrific return of eight league goals in the 2014-15 campaign stands as proof of his value going forward.

Swansea’s Player of the Season in that campaign, no Korean footballer has made more Premier League appearances than the 31-year-old, who moved from Newcastle to Mallorca earlier this year.

Ali Al Habsi (Oman)
Clubs: Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic
Games: 111
Honours: Wigan Player of the Year (2010-11), FA Cup (2012-13)

Oman’s first and only Premier League player, Al Habsi was already 25 when he signed for Bolton Wanderers in the first weeks of 2006, but his remarkable longevity means he is still a fixture in the English game at Championship outfit West Bromwich Albion.

He was an outstanding shot-stopper on his day, playing 101 out of 114 possible Premier League matches for Wigan from 2010-11 to 2012-13 ahead of one-time England international Chris Kirkland.

Al Habsi was an unused substitute when Wigan won the FA Cup over Manchester City in 2012-13, but he played a key role in getting them to the decider, producing a crucial clean sheet in their 2-0 semi-final win over Millwall.

Mark Schwarzer (Australia)
Clubs: Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea, Leicester City
Games: 514
Honours: League Cup (2003-04), Fulham Player of the Year (2008-09)

The sole player from outside of Britain to play more than 500 games in the competition, with only David James having made more appearances as a Premier League goalkeeper.

A League Cup winner with Middlesbrough in 2004 and Fulham’s Player of the Season in 2008-09, Schwarzer played a significant role in taking both clubs to finals of European club competitions, only to be beaten by Spanish opposition on both occasions.

Schwarzer joined Chelsea, then Leicester as a back-up goalkeeper in his forties, earning the distinction of being on the books of title-winning clubs in consecutive Premier League seasons, albeit without making any league appearances in those campaigns.

Maya Yoshida (Japan)
Club: Southampton
Games: 154
Goals: 6

The captain of the Japanese national team, Yoshida is one of Asia’s most successful Premier League defenders, making over 150 appearances across eight seasons in England.

He is the only Japanese player to reach that milestone, and he did so as part of a Southampton side which managed top eight finishes in four consecutive seasons 2013-14 to 2016-17.

A true leader in the heart of defence, Yoshida captained the Saints on several occasions before moving to Italy in the January transfer window of 2020.

Mark Viduka (Australia)
Clubs: Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United
Games: 240
Goals: 92

Big and strong, but with a wonderful football intelligence and an artist’s touch Viduka hit the ground running at Leeds United, scoring all four goals in a stunning 4-3 win against Liverpool early in the 2000-01 season.

He went on to bag 59 league goals in 130 matches for the Elland Road outfit, including 20 in a relegation-threatened side in 2002-03, before scoring six times in nine UEFA Cup matches to help Middlesbrough reach the final in 2005-06.

Injuries took their toll during his final season at Newcastle, but his 92 Premier League goals outline just how good a player he was.

Who is your favourite Asian player in the Premier League? Vote below (Poll ends at 16:00 UTC +8 on May 28).

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