Throughout its three-decade lifetime, the English Premier League has seen some of the best footballers compete to win the grand prize; Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane, Nemanja Vidic, Petr Cech are among a vast sea of legends to take part in the premier division of English football.
In light of the upcoming Asian Cup, we take a look now at the most legendary, most storied, most revered Asians (excluding Australians) in Premier League history. These players are proof that, even with limited opportunity, the best of the best will outshine and get the opportunity to show their abilities in the top stage.
Undoubtedly, Park Ji-Sung is the best Asian footballer to ever grace the Premier League field. Praise from former teammates and managers suffice to prove his greatness; Sir Alex Ferguson called him ‘truly fantastic’ and recalled Park’s masterclass against AC Milan and Andrea Pirlo; Shinji Kagawa labelled him ‘the best player Asia has ever produced’; Wayne Rooney pointed out that Park was the essence of Man United’s success and lament at the recognition he receives. His fans called him “Three-Lung Park”; not only to wordplay on his name, but also to praise his limitless stamina and commitment to the ball.
Praises aside, Park’s achievements cement his best-ever status among his compatriots; he remains the first Asian to play and win the UEFA Champions League final. He is also South Korea’s joint all-time goalscorer in the World Cup with three goals, each coming from the 2002, 2006 and 2010 editions.
Throughout his seven seasons with Manchester United, Park won four Premier League titles, three League Cups, two Community Shields, and became European and World Champions in 2008.
If Park Ji-Sung is the reigning King, Son Heung-Min will be his second-in-line. While Park is known for his stamina in defence, Son is known for his technique in offence. He is the most prolific Asian footballer in the Premier League’s history, scoring 115 goals and providing 57 assists. His 2019/20 Golden Boot was the first for an Asian footballer.
Not only that, Son is good with both feet and utterly explosive on and off the ball. His solo goal against Burnley in 2019 won him the Premier League Goal of the Season award and the FIFA Puskas award, signifying the worldwide recognition of his talent.
For his nation, Son has 117 caps and 41 goals, placing him seventh and third of both respective lists. He contributed massively to his nation’s 2018 Asian Cup victory and looks forward to repeating the feat in this year’s edition in Qatar. Can he do it? Place your bets on South Korea’s chance of victory in the 2024 Asian Cup now at we88th.
As of the 2022/23 season, there are four Asian footballers who have been crowned Premier League champions. Park Ji-Sung is the sole representative of South Korea; he is joined by three Japanese: Shinji Kagawa won the League at Manchester United; Shinji Okazaki played his part in Leicester’s 2016 miracle; Takumi Minamino was constantly reliable throughout Liverpool’s recent dominant era.
Omani Ali Al-Habsi’s spells at Wigan and Bolton were legendary, while Maya Yoshida’s eight-year tenure at Southampton was equally remarkable.
Present and Future
Currently, there are three Japanese in the Premier League: Wataru Endo is on a good trajectory to win the League with Liverpool, Kaoru Mitoma impresses at Brighton, and Takehiro Tomiyasu is the backbone of Arsenal’s defence. This is part of the reason why Japan is so favoured going into the Asian Cup in Qatar.
Son Heung-Min’s only compatriot in Hwang Hee-chan is having the form of his life, scoring 10 goals in 20 league games for Wolverhampton Wanderers. This places him sixth in the top scorer’s list with two goals behind Son in joint third.
Brentford’s Saman Ghoddos is the only non-East Asian in the league. The Iranian has already made more than 100 appearances for Brentford, 46 of which came from his three years in the top flight.
Asian footballers have contributed massively to the development and popularity of the Premier League. Their involvement not only strengthens Asian football in terms of quality; it also motivates young children to follow the path their idols set for them. It is certainly hoped that this trajectory continues, and more Asian footballers will find themselves playing in the English Premier League.