Asian Soccer Player in Europe
In the second edition of this annual feature, we at Outside of the Boot aim to unearth the best performing footballers from each of the 5 primary Confederations. Rebranded as ‘The Best Series’, we champion football’s top individuals based on performances in the past calendar year.
22 // Iraq // Udinese
Adnan has already made huge strides in his career. The young footballer, known for long as the Asian Gareth Bale due to a similarity in his playing style with the Welshman, made a big move to Udinese at the start of last season. In doing so, he became the first Iraqi player to ply his trade in the Serie A.
Ali had a great first season at the club, settling in well, and putting on good performances against the likes of Juventus as well. He made progress on the personal front too, learning Italian and bringing his family to Udine to join him. He had a slightly indifferent end to last season, and a similar start to this one, making just 7 starts so far. He’s had a better year on the international level, performing well for Iraq in their Olympic tournament, and catching a lot of attention.
Ali Adnan certainly has the talent to make it as a good footballer in Europe, as evidenced by his displays, and Udinese have kept the faith in him.
23 // Iran // AZ Alkmaar
After strong showings for NEC Nijmegen in both the Eredivisie and Jupiler League, Alireza Jahanbakhsh returned to the Dutch top flight after a move to AZ Alkmaar in 2015-16. In his debut season for AZ, Jahanbakhsh didn’t set the world alight, but he did show the promise of progression, and the current season under John van den Brom is evidence that he has come good on that promise.
In fifteen appearances for the Cheeseheads this season, the Iranian international has registered four goals and three assists. Though those totals may seem a bit low for a player who is being highlighted in this series, those numbers do not do justice to how important he is to the team. Jahanbakhsh is very much an all-action, all-around player on the right side of the attack on both sides of the ball. Going forward, he’s shown ability in the creative department (1.78 chances and 1.47 key passes, both per ninety-minutes), as well as being a threat to test the keeper both from distance and inside the area (3.14 shots per ninety-minutes). Strong on the ball, he is unafraid to take others on (2.41 take-ons per ninety-minutes), but it is perhaps his defensive contributes from the right-wing slot that make him the most valuable-asset to van der Brom at current. Providing much needed additional cover for Swedish right-back Mattias Johansson, he’s won 1.68 tackles and 0.94 (both per ninety-minutes), providing valuable aid to an efficient AZ defense who sit fifth best in the Eredivisie with only eighteen goals surrendered. It’s unclear where Jahanbakhsh’s career will go, but he’s certainly found a suitable home in Alkmaar.
23 // Uzbekistan // Pakhtakor Tashkent (on loan at Beijing Guoan)
With an incredible eye for goal, and a raw talent that has seen the Uzbek striker make over 120 appearances and score over 60 goals, Sergeev is undoubtedly one of the most impressive prospects in the Asian continent.
Just 23-years-old he is already 10th on the all-time top scorers list for his country, and has also managed to finish as his Paktakor Tashkent side’s top scorer for two seasons in a row. Eighteen goals in the calendar year were a drop from the impressive twenty-nine the previous season, but it didn’t represent a drop in Sergeev’s stock in the footballing world.
Despite his side being knocked out in the group stage, Sergeev finished as the top Asian scorer in the 2016 AFC Champions League. His impressive rise to fame and early peak in the Uzbek league eventually drew Beijing Guoan’s interest, where he’s currently plying his trade. This representing another validation of Sergeev’s talent with the Chinese Super League side deciding to loan the Uzbek striker rather than dwell into the riches of Europe as some of the other sides from the league have done.
24 // South Korea // Tottenham Hotspur // 2015 Ranking: 3 ↓
Son Heung-Min has long been a highly-rated prospect, from his time at Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen to joining Tottenham Hotspur as a £22m big money signing (the most expensive Asian player ever, at the time of writing). In 2016, Son has finally started to show his quality in the Premier League. In 2015/16, Son played a squad role for Spurs in the league. Conversely, he had a starring role in their journey to the UEFA Europa League Last-16, contributing 3 goals and 3 assists in 7 appearances. As an overage player at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Son scored 2 in 4 matches, helping South Korea top a group that included eventual finalists Germany.