Top 6 Asian Players to have played in the Premier League since the turn of the century
When we talk about some of the great players to have played in the Premier League since the turn of the century, the names of Ryan Giggs, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and so on come to our minds.
Indeed, the fans in the Premier League have been blessed to witness some world-class players produce some mesmerizing football to take their breath away.
With all due respect to those great players who have graced the Premier League and enhanced its reputation since the turn of the century, some of the underrated stars who added to the diversity and proved their mettle at the highest level are often forgotten.
The Asian footballers are arguably the most underrated in the world and the English top-flight has played host to some of the greatest talents to have emerged from the continent.
From China’s Sun Jihai in the early 2000s to Son Heung-Min in recent times, Asian footballers have often taken the Premier League by storm and they too deserve a fair share of the limelight.
So, without further ado, let us take a look at some of the best Asian footballers to have graced the Premier League since the turn of the century.
1. Sun Jihai
A massively influential figure in Chinese football, Sun Jihai rose to prominence with Chinese outfit Dalian Shide before making his mark in the old English First Division with Crystal Palace in 1998.
Jihai only joined the Eagles on loan and was recalled by his parent club but he returned in February 2002, this time with Man City, and became the first Asian player to play for the Cityzens.
Jihai made a handful of appearances in City’s promotion-winning campaign but he established himself as a regular for the Citizens in the following season in the Premier League.
Despite being just 5ft 10in tall, his solid defending and dangerous attacking attributes made him a strong fan favourite amongst the fans on the blue half of Manchester and he became the first Chinese player to score in the Premier League when he headed home the first goal in a 2-0 victory over Birmingham City.
The centre-back would then go on to have a successful spell until the end of the 2007-08 campaign before joining Sheffield United in the Championship.
Nevertheless, the 80-cap Chinese World Cup star went on to make 148 appearances for the Citizens, also becoming the first Chinese player to score in the UEFA Cup.
2. Park Ji-Sung
Having won two Eredivisie titles with PSV Eindhoven, Park Ji-Sung wasn’t a complete rookie when he arrived at Man United in the summer of 2005 but the Korean’s illustrious spell at Old Trafford made him the icon that he is today.
Park established himself as a regular starter under Sir Alex Ferguson and his high levels of fitness, eye-watering work rate, versatility to play anywhere in the middle of the park and uncompromised commitment made him a firm fan favourite amongst the fans at Old Trafford.
Park went on to win a whole lot of silverware with Man United, including four Premier League titles, three League Cups as well as the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, making him the first Asian footballer to have won the Champions League.
Used as a big-game warrior in crucial encounters by Sir Alex Ferguson, the versatile midfielder repaid his manager’s faith more often than not, racking up an impressive 28 goals and 29 assists in 204 appearances for Man United in all competitions.
The South Korean international, who represented his nation at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, left Man United to join QPR in 2012, although he returned to his old club PSV Eindhoven following Queens Park Rangers’ relegation to the Championship.
Park currently works as a club ambassador for Man United, and with 19 major trophies in his cabinet, he is undoubtedly the most decorated footballer in the history of Asian football.
3. Ki Sung-yueng
Following his impressive performances for K-League heavyweights FC Seoul, Ki Sung-Yueng rose to prominence with Celtic before earning a coveted to the Premier League with Welsh outfit Swansea City.
The hardworking central midfielder quickly established himself as a mainstay in the Swans first-team under Michael Laudrup and helped his team clinch the 2012-13 Football League Cup.
Ki’s impressive range of passing, tactical intelligence, sharp reflexes, work ethics and expertise in dead-ball situations made him a firm fan favourite at the Liberty Stadium and the Korean racked up 11 goals and 12 assists in 162 appearances across all competitions for the Swans.
Following Swansea’s relegation to the Championship at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Ki joined Newcastle United and went on to play a key role for the Magpies under Rafael Benitez.
He is currently playing in the K League.
4. Maya Yoshida
Having shot to prominence with J-League giants Nagoya Grampus, Maya Yoshida made his move to Dutch club VVV-Venlo before earning a surprise move to the Premier League with then newly-promoted Southampton in the summer of 2012.
The centre-back hasn’t looked back since then and has gone on to establish himself as a key figure at the back for the Saints.
The 119-cap Japanese World Cup star wasn’t always a sure starter for Southampton due to the frequent managerial change at the club but he has held his own more often than not.
Noted for his sharp anticipation, quick reflexes and good game-reading abilities, Yoshida racked up 194 appearances for the Saints in all competitions before leaving the club in 2020.
Yoshida might not have the eye-catching profile as someone like Park Ji-Sung but he has carved out an identity for himself in the Premier League, nonetheless.
5. Son Heung-min
Arguably the brand ambassador of Asian football in recent times, Son Heung-min’s meteoric rise to becoming a Premier League stalwart with Spurs has been an awe-inspiring tale.
A combined scoring record of 49 goals in 165 appearances for Hamburger and Bayer Leverkusen in German football was enough to prompt Spurs to come up with an offer for the Korean in 2015 and the £22million fee made him the most expensive Asian footballer of all time.
Son hasn’t looked back since then and has progressed by leaps and bounds under the watchful eyes of Mauricio Pochettino. It is not surprising to see that his stocks have rocketed sky-high in recent years, with the South Korean’s impressive performances in North London making him a firm fan favourite on the white half of North London.
Noted for his versatility to play on either side of the attack and also lead the line as a centre-forward, Son has formed a deadly strike partnership with England icon Harry Kane at Tottenham.
The 30-year-old, who has 33 goals in 102 appearances for South Korea, is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League and the fans will be hoping that the best is yet to come from him.
Nevertheless, a tally of 93 goals and 47 assists in 238 appearances for Spurs has already sent him into the history books as one of the greatest ever talents to have graced the Premier League.
To top it, Son won the Golden Boot (alongside Mohamed Salah) for the year 2021/22.
6. Ali Al-Habsi
He might be one of the least decorated inclusions in the list but as a matter of fact, Ali Al-Habsi became the first-ever Omanese footballer to feature in the Premier League when he was signed by Bolton Wanderers from Norwegian club Lyn Oslo back in January 2006.
The towering 6ft 4in shot-stopper remained under the shadow of Jussi Jaaskelainen at the Reebok Stadium and, despite producing some incredible saves against Bayern Munich in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup, he never really managed to dislodge the Finnish international from the No.1 role.
However, he made a big impact upon joining local rivals Wigan Athletic, initially on loan before making his stay permanent in 2011. Al-Habsi illustrated great proficiency in saving penalties and went on to make a total of 154 appearances for the Latics in all competitions, winning the 2012-13 FA Cup in the process.
Al-Habsi continues to be a massive source of inspiration for all aspiring Middle Eastern footballers and his success story in English football reminds everyone that opportunities are there if you put a lot of hard work into your game.