Remember Nagoya Grampus Eight? Remember Gary Lineker setting the J-League on fire? No? Neither do we. In the 90’s England and the rest of the west were made aware that Asian countries also play football as well as do Kung-Fu and make animals out of pieces of folded paper. At the time I couldn’t believe my eyes, I lived a sheltered life back then and the only thing I knew about any Asian country was that Mr Miyagi was Japanese and able to kill flies with chop-sticks.
Fast forward to 2011 and my knowledge is slightly more expansive. The rise of Asian football has come on leaps and bounds since Japan and South Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup. So much so they are not content with just humans playing football - they also have robotic dogs that play!
Over the past 10 years or so we have seen a steady influx of Far-Eastern players come in to the European leagues. Hidetoshi Nakata became the biggest football star in Japan after playing for Roma and Parma, amongst others, before making his way to the veterans paradise that used to be Bolton Wanderers. We have seen South Korean Young-Pyo Lee at Spurs and PSV, former Japanese internationals Junicihi Inamoto and the menacing ankle biter Kazuyuki Toda at North London rivals Arsenal and Spurs respectively, and the Japanese David James, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, who played/existed at Portsmouth.
There are some high profile success stories that have graced the top European leagues; Lee Chung-Yong has enjoyed a lot of success at Bolton over the past two seasons and so far he has justified the fact that he was bought on merit rather than for commercial reasons. The most successful Asian import is Park Ji-Sung who was relied on as one of Manchester United’s key players in the Champions League final in the season just gone, a testament to the quality of Asian players and how far they have progressed in the modern game.
Celtic have enjoyed Japanese internationals Shunsuke Nakamura and Koki Mizuno, Serie A and the Bundesliga have some impressive far-eastern performers also, with Dortmund’s star Shinji Kagawa taking the league by storm and attracting interest from all over Europe.
So impressive is their impact that this summer we should be bracing ourselves to see more of their compatriots in the Premier League and here is Football Rascal’s low-down on two main men that could be on their way to England:
Keisuke Honda – CSKA Moscow
Honda really rose to prominence during the last World Cup in South Africa attracting many plaudits and Arsene Wenger labelled him the player of the tournament. He was instrumental in taking Japan to the last 16, only losing to finalists Holland and semi-finalists Uruguay along the way.
Such is his versatility, Honda can operate as either a deep-lying midfield ball player or operate higher up the pitch as an advanced midfielder/second striker. He is not just a versatile as a cardy in winter, he has bags of flair, is strong in posession, and also packs a punch with a left-foot wand that is as good from open play as it is from dead-ball situations.
He has played for CSKA in the Champions League and made a big impact. The physical challenge of the Premier League is not going to be a problem for Honda, he stands at 6ft and is full of energy and running.
Recently Honda has come out and expressed his unhappiness at CSKA and that it is time to move on and the Premiership seems the perfect destination. Liverpool are rumoured to have been keen on the player for some time, however changes in management and signings could rule out a move to Anfield. Wenger is a big fan of his talents and could see him as the kind of player to get Arsenal back on track. Either way I hope to see him somewhere, centre-mids are at a premium so he could prove a perfect solution.
Watch Honda in action here. Enjoy the techno soundtrack!
Park Chu-Young – AS Monaco
Korea found out about young striking sensation Park Chu-Young when he took South Korea to a record-breaking win in the Asian Football Confederations championship, where he was voted tournament MVP and took the Golden Ball award. He is a previous Asian Young Footballer of the Year but made his name taking apart defences in the K-League where he scored 23 goals in 69 games for FC Seoul.
He continued to impress for South Korea at various levels and skippers the side today. His performances lead to him gaining a move to AS Monaco in 2008 and his career has blossomed. He has even earned the nickname ‘The Prince of Monaco’ from the AS faithful.
Park Chu-Young has good strength and pace that allows him to play off the shoulder and get in behind defences. He is more versatile than that and can drop deep to link play, getting his fair share of assists. He is a good decision maker and is very good in one-on-one situations as well as being accurate from distance.
He has expressed his desire to leave AS Monaco after their relegation from Ligue 1 and even though playing in a bad team, the striker still managed to score a third of the teams goals on his own. So far he has been linked with Chelsea, Bolton, Liverpool, Spurs and Fulham – either the guy is good or is agent is extra busy!
See for yourself, video link for the talented striker here.
I am looking forward to seeing more talent from developing leagues being represented in the Premiership. Over the past decade players from the United States, Asia and Australia have slowly risen to fame and turned in performances in Europe’s top leagues. Once these guys were an unknown quantity and we taken seriously, oh how times change.