Asians in Europe: who are the best players in the UEFA Champions League?
The development of Asian football in recent decades has been astounding, with many of the continent’s best players representing elite-level teams around the world.
This is no better evidenced than in Europe, whose most prestigious competition, the UEFA Champions League, has seen several Asian players feature prominently. With that in mind, here are the three best players from the continent to play in the tournament.
Park Ji-Sung (KOR – PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United)
Former PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung is the most decorated Asian player on this list, boasting two Dutch championships, four Premier Leagues and a Champions League winners medal to his name. In fact, Park is the only Asian to have ever won the Champions League, although former side United are out of contention this season given that they are playing in the Europa League. Instead, arch-rivals Manchester City and Liverpool are among the favourites to win the tournament, boasting Champions League betting odds of 13/8 and 9/1, respectively.
A strong start to 2022-23 means Erik ten Hag’s side are among many pundits’ Champions League predictions to return to Europe’s elite level competition next campaign, a tournament for which Park boasts an impressive 54 appearances, in which time the midfielder recorded five goals and five assists. Park’s time at United came to an end in 2012 when he joined fellow Premier League side QPR before a brief loan spell back at PSV in 2013, after which the Korean hung up his boots.
Son Heung-Min (KOR – Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur)
Son Heung-Min is another South Korean on this list but is very much still playing, having finished as the Premier League’s joint-top scorer last season. At European level, despite not boasting any trophies to his name, the 30-year-old has scored an impressive 19 goals in 53 appearances for both Spurs and former club Bayer Leverkusen. Son and Tottenham came closest in 2018-19 when they reached the final at the Estadio Metropolitano in Madrid, only to fall to a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool.
To get there, though, Son was part of a team that turned around a 3-0 aggregate deficit against Ajax in the semis. The Korean was the strike partner of Brazilian forward Lucas Moura, who unceremoniously scored a hat-trick in the second half in Amsterdam, the last goal coming in the 96th minute to send his side through on away goals. Son continues to be one of Tottenham’s most valuable players, and will represent Spurs when they take on Milan in the last 16 later this year.
Shinji Kagawa (JPN – Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United)
Shinji Kagawa has a Premier League title and two Bundesliga shields to his name during his time at Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa also featured heavily in Europe’s elite-level competition for these two clubs. In total, he made 33 tournament appearances spread over a cumulative seven seasons at both clubs. In that time, Kagawa recorded four goals and eight assists, with his joint-most successful period coming with the Red Devils in 2013-14, when they reached the quarter-finals before defeat to Bayern Munich.
His most prolific spell on an individual level came in Dortmund’s 2016-17 season, where the Japan international scored three goals and assisted two as his side also reached the last-eight stage, themselves bowing out to Monaco. After his time in England and Germany, Kagawa spent a year each at Spanish side Real Zaragoza and Greek outfit PAOK, before turning out for Sint-Truidense in the Belgian Jupiler Pro League, where he is still playing.
With many players from up and down the continent still representing clubs in the Champions League, it won’t be long before another Asian footballer is crowned a European champion. Only time will tell which side will go onto glory this season, when the two finalists meet in Istanbul on 10 June.