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15 Greatest Asian Soccer Players of All Time 

Asian soccer doesn’t always get the love that it deserves, though you’d be surprised at just how many great Asian soccer players there have been over the years.

It’s often overlooked that the countries that make up the Asian Football Federation cover five regions, with a total of 47 countries. 

From Australia to Yemen, Asian soccer has one of the richest histories around. With so many nations competing, it was inevitable that, from time to time, a player would rise to the very top. 

Today, we’re going to scour the Asian world for some of the best soccer players in history; you may be surprised at just how important some of these names are in soccer. You’ll undoubtedly be surprised at some of the records, titles, and playing careers of some top Asian soccer players. 

Here are the 15 greatest Asian soccer players of all time.

15. Mohamed Al-Deayea 

  • Country: Saudi Arabia

A great start to our list, Mohamed Al-Deayea, was a Saudi Arabian international goalkeeper with a staggering 173 caps for his country. With four World Cup competitions to his name, Al-Deayea has participated in more international competitions than most, 

Playing professional soccer until age 37, Al-Deayea was a highly-regarded, athletic goalkeeper. Having played for just two teams, Al-Ta’ee and Al-Hilal, Al-Deayea had a testimonial to mark the end of his illustrious career against Juventus; 70,000 turned out to pay their respects to one of Asian soccer’s greatest goalkeepers. 

14. Saeed Al-Owairan 

  • Country: Saudi Arabia

Another Saudi Arabian legend makes our list, though this time it’s an attacking midfielder with a phenomenal goalscoring record. Saeed Al-Owairan spent his entire career at Al-Shabab and made a total of 588 league appearances for his club. Scoring a very solid 238 league goals, Al-Owairan was one of the most prolific midfielders of his generation. 

Despite only playing for Saudi Arabia for seven years, Al-Owairan collected 75 caps for his country and scored 24 goals, which is a substantial return for a midfielder. You may remember Al-Owairan from the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.A, where he scored one of the most incredible World Cup goals of all time.

His goal against Belgium was ranked as the 6th best World Cup goal of all time and sent the Saudi Arabia team through to the second round of the competition. Following his wonder goal, Al-Owairan was named the Asian Soccer Player of the Year. 

13. Cha Bum-Kun 

  • Country: South Korea

South Korean striker Cha Bum-Kun was one of the first South Korean players to ply his trade outside of Asia after joining German side Darmstadt in 1978. A season later, the striker, nicknamed Cha Boom in Germany, moved to Eintracht Frankfurt before finishing his career at Bayer Leverkusen. 

Things almost turned out for the worst for Bum-Kun due to his military career; he was recalled from Germany after the Korean army refused to release him to play for Darmstadt. Luckily, the Korean striker would return to Germany and carve out a solid career, scoring 98 league goals in 308 appearances. 

12. Keisuke Honda 

  • Country: Japan

Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda has played for 11 clubs in his illustrious career, most notably AC Milan and CSKA Moscow. One of the most famous Japanese players of all time, Honda’s 17-year career would also include 98 international caps and three league championships. 

Few players can boast of having a Russian Premier League title, an Eerste Divisie title, and an Azerbaijan Premier League to their name. Despite not actually having retired yet, Honda was named the manager of Cambodia in 2018, though things haven’t gone as well as in his playing days. 

Two defeats to Iran, with a combined scoreline of 24-0, means that the former Japanese international is going to have a hard time turning things around. As a player, though, Honda was an intelligent, industrious, and talented midfielder. 

11. Shinji Okazaki 

  • Country: Japan

Japanese international striker Shinji Okazaki is a part of Premier League history; a member of the incredible Leicester City squad that won the 2016 Premier League. Okazaki is only the second Japanese player to have won the English top division, alongside Shinji Kagawa.

Okazaki has an impressive resume, Japan’s third highest goalscorer of all time, having played in Japan, Germany, England, Spain, and Belgium. While not the most prolific striker, Okazaki has scored some crucial goals, not least his 50 international goals. 

When playing for Leicester, a phenomenal overhead kick against Newcastle won the game for the Foxes and took the team five points clear at the top of the table. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

10. Yuto Nagatomo 

  • Country: Japan

Another well-traveled Japanese international, Yuto Nagatomo, has had an excellent career as a full-back for teams such as Marseille, Inter Milan, FC Tokyo, and Galatasaray. A versatile player that could operate at both left, and right defensive positions, Nagatomo was a key player for Inter Milan for seven seasons. 

On the international stage, Nagatomo is one of the most capped players in Japanese history, with a well-deserved 137 caps. Currently, back at FC Tokyo, the player is now in his 15th season as a professional. 

9. Hong Myung-Bo 

  • Country: South Korea

Widely regarded as one of the best South Korean players of all time, Hong Myung-Bo spent all but one season of his career playing in Korea and Japan. In his final year as a professional soccer player, Myung-Bo played 38 times for the LA galaxy. 

Myung-Bo gained a lot of recognition internationally, despite spending much of his career in Korea and Japan, thanks to his excellent displays at the World Cup finals.

The first Asian player to play in four consecutive World Cups, Myung-Bo was a leader on the pitch, constantly monitoring both the opposition and his own defense. 

8. Tim Cahill 

  • Country: Australia

Australia has a habit of producing tenacious, aggressive players, and Tim Cahill, arguably the best Australian player of all time, is no exception. An excellent attacking midfielder, Cahill ended his career with 600 league appearances and 150 goals.

A regular in the English leagues, Cahill spent six years at Milwall before a move to Everton, where he would establish himself as a hard-working, combative attacker with an eye for goal.

The Australian international was a superb header of the ball and would often arrive late into the area before powering a header into the net. 

Tim Cahill averaged almost a goal every two games when playing for the Socceroos, having finished on 50 goals in 108 international appearances. After retiring, Cahill became a well-respected pundit for Sky Sports. 

7. Ali Karimi 

  • Country: Iran

Iranian soccer’s most outstanding playmaker, Ali Karimi, is often referred to as the Asian Maradona, such was his ability with a ball at his feet.

Spending most of his career playing in the Iranian Pro League and the UAE League, Karimi did spend several seasons in Germany and made 33 league appearances for Bayern Munich. 

Karimi was an excellent dribbler, with an eye for goal and a superb passing range that could unlock defenses at will. Making 127 international appearances, the Iranian legend scored 38 goals for Iran and appeared at five tournaments. 

6. Majed Abdullah 

  • Country: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian striker Majed Abdullah was a tall, rangy player with the fantastic ability to hit the target every time. Having spent his entire 21-year career with Al-Nassr, Abdullah would finish his career with 189 goals in 194 league appearances. 

That incredible statistic aside, Abdullah also played in countless tournaments and competitions for the Riyadh club and would also be prolific for his national team too. Seventy-two goals in just 117 appearances is an excellent rate of return. 

It’s hard not to speculate how well-known Majed Abdullah would have been had he been born in Holland or England, but for our part, the Saudi marksman has to be mentioned on our list; an incredible center forward whose strike rate is as impressive today as it was 20 years ago. 

5. Shunsuke Nakamura

  • Country: Japan

Shunsuke Nakamura has been playing professionally since 1997, and the current Yokohama midfielder has 25 years of experience to call upon, having played for clubs as far afield as Scotland and Spain. 

A three-time Scottish Premier League champion with Celtic, Nakamura has also won the AFC Asian Cup twice with Japan. A creative midfielder with excellent passing skills, the evergreen Nakamura has spent much of his professional career pulling the strings from a central midfield spot. 

It’s a sign of just how good a player Nakamura has been over the years that he has won the J League’s Most Valuable Player award twice; even more incredibly, he has won it 13 years apart, having won his first award in 2000, before reclaiming the MVP title in 2013.

Some players just get better with age, and Nakamura lets his brain do all the running for him. 

4. Ali Daei 

  • Country: Iran

For several years, Ali Daei was the most prolific international goalscorer in the world, only overtaken in 2021 by the even more prolific Cristiano Ronaldo. Given that Daei played for Iran while Ronaldo had the cream of Portuguese soccer helping him, you can’t help but feel that Daei’s record is still the one to beat. 

A superb striker with excellent heading and jumping ability, Daei had a 20-year career, running out for teams such as Bayern Munich, Persepolis, Al Shabab, and Arminia Bielefeld. Daei was hugely crucial to Iran; an accurate finisher, he scored 109 times in 149 appearances for his country. 

After retirement, the former player would go on to become a successful manager, even taking the reins at Persepolis, one of his former clubs. Regarded as the best striker Iran has ever produced, Daei remains a hugely popular figure in Asian soccer. 

3. Hidetoshi Nakata 

  • Country: Japan

An attacking midfielder with an incredible touch, Hidetoshi Nakata was Japan’s answer to David Beckham, a fashion icon, media star, and superb soccer player. Best known for his spell playing in Italy, Nakata turned out for Perugia, Roma, Parma, and Fiorentina. 

A central midfielder by trade, Nakata was excellent at driving forward into dangerous areas of the pitch and had the vision and passing abilities to carve open opponent’s defenses. While not a prolific goalscorer, the Japanese international was often the key player in midfield who would provide assists for teammates.

A massive star in his home country, Nakata combined style and flair on and off the field. Modeling for several of the world’s most prominent fashion magazines, the player became a trendsetter but was still dedicated enough to contribute to several of Italy’s best teams. 

Nakata rarely spent more than a few years at each of the clubs he played for but was a consistent and valued team member.

Capped 77 times for Japan, Nakata almost single-handedly helped Japan to the 1998 World Cup, scoring five goals in qualifying before assisting in each of the three goals scored in a play-off against Iran. 

2. Park Ji-Sung 

  • Country: South Korea

The most decorated Asian soccer player in history, Park Ji-Sung, amassed an impressive 19 trophies in his career and numerous personal awards and accolades.

After first coming to prominence in Holland, where Ji-Sung spent three seasons with PSV Eindhoven, the South Korean legend moved to Manchester United in 2005 and became a national hero. 

The first Asian player to lift the Champions League trophy, Ji-Sung was a vital member of the Manchester United team; his work rate was second to none, and his determination and endurance were staggering. 

Nicknamed “Three Lungs” due to his incredible stamina, Ji-Sung was often used to man mark key opponents, hounding them across every blade of grass for 90 minutes. Anyone who believes the Korean international was simply a squad member is sorely mistaken; Ji-sung was used in various roles and was superb at all of them. 

After collecting four Premier League titles, three League Cups, a Champions League, and FIFA World Club Cup, Ji-Sung also helped his country to fourth place in the 2002 World Cup, which, due to the fact that the competition was held in South Korea, turned the player into a national treasure. 

1. Son Heung-min 

  • Country: South Korea

While several Asian players have moved abroad to play for European clubs, Son Heung-min is one of the few that moved as a youth player before finally making his professional debut in 2010. After leaving FC Seoul in 2008, Heung-min, like many of his compatriots, found his way to the Bundesliga. 

After three seasons with Hamburger SV, the South Korean striker was sold to Bayer Leverkusen, where he would average a goal every three games. Son Heung-min would eventually be sold to Tottenham Hotspur, who identified his excellent movement, positional sense, and teamwork as the perfect foil for Harry Kane. 

Heung-min would develop into a superb striker while in London and has become an integral part of the team. An impressive haul of 96 goals in 240 league appearances as of 2022 has catapulted Heung-min into the elite striker bracket. He is widely regarded as the best Asian soccer player currently still competing. 

After finishing the joint top scorer in the Premier League in 2021-22. Heung-min looks set for another excellent season under new manager Antonio Conte. With a determination to succeed, and a work rate that’s second to none, there’s every chance that Son Heung-min could again top the scoring charts at the end of the current season. 

Still only 30, Son Heung-min is the best Asian player on the planet and has every chance of further cementing his place as the greatest Asian soccer player of all time.

A Premier League title or a Champions League medal would go a long way to making the excellent Korean striker one of the best in the world.