Another exciting year for Asia reflected in Best Footballer in Asia 2019 shortlist

AFC U23 Championship Highlights – Australia vs Uzbekistan

John Duerden John Duerden

As the time approaches to crown the Best Footballer in Asia 2019, John Duerden takes a look at the standouts from the past 12 months that make up the 24-man shortlist for the award.

It is that time of the year again – time for journalists all over Asia to select the standout player from the continent or playing for one of the continent’s clubs to receive the prestigious Best Footballer in Asia award.

In my two decades plus of covering Asian football, this has been a bumper year.

2019 has also been a roller-coaster affair with memories made that will stay with fans for a lifetime. It started back in January with the AFC Asian Cup and is ending with two Asian representatives in the FIFA Club World Cup. There has been plenty of action in between.

Qatar provided the biggest story of the Asian Cup and that is reflected in the fact that there are three players from the Maroons in the list. Akram Afif and Almoez Ali tormented defences at the tournament and it is no surprise that both are in the running this time around and they are sure to collect plenty of points from impressed jurors. Bassam Al-Rawi was a standout at the back in January and fully deserves to be one of the 24.

There are four non-Asian players in the list, a quartet that has starred for some of the biggest teams on the continent.

Paulinho has been consistently outstanding for Guangzhou Evergrande over the years. The Brazilian midfielder has had another great season in the Chinese Super League, even finishing second in the goalscoring charts, as the Southern China Tigers picked up an 8th domestic title in nine seasons.

The one prize that Evergrande crave more than the Chinese title is the AFC Champions League.

That crown is now being worn by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and the Riyadh giants owe a lot to their French striker. Bafetimbi Gomis had the opportunity to show his famous ‘lion dance’ goal ceremony 11 times in the ACL. Without his goals, Al Hilal would still be waiting, impatiently.

Former Italian international Sebastian Giovinco also played his part for the Saudi Professional League giants and joins Gomis on the list as does flying winger Salem Al-Dawsari, who replicated his excellent form at club level on the international stage too for Saudi Arabia.

Baghdad Bounedjah has also been included in the list. The Algerian striker scored a crazy amount of goals for Al Sadd in the 2018/19 Qatar Stars League season – 39 to be exact.  Such instincts were seen instantly in the FIFA Club World Cup in December.

Then there are, of course, a number of Asian players who have been making waves in Europe. Son Heung-min is the current holder of the BFA award and has enjoyed another fine year with Tottenham Hotspur, both in the English Premier League and especially in Europe, where he played a major part in helping Spurs to the final of  the UEFA Champions League.

Fellow South Korean Lee Kang-in is still a teenager but was named as the MVP of the FIFA U-20 World Cup as he helped the young Taeguk Warriors to the final. He has also broken into the first team of Valencia.

Wu Lei has also been a success in La Liga since his move to Espanyol in January. Anyone who thought he was in Spain to sell shirts back in China were sorely mistaken.

Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun has been impressive once more with Zenit Saint Petersburg with Eldor Shomurodov of Uzbekistan also in Russia and flying the flag for Central Asia.

Takumi Minamino was making headlines even before the recent reported move to Liverpool. The Japanese international starred at the Asian Cup but has really impressed in the UEFA Champions League with Red Bull Salzburg. Compatriots Yuya Osako and Yuto Nagatomo also enjoyed themselves in Europe.

There is Australian involvement too. Mathew Ryan has impressed between the sticks for Brighton and Australia. Adam Taggart went from Australia to South Korea and ended up winning the K League golden boot after scoring 20 goals for Suwon Bluewings, while also impressing in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification by scoring three goals.

Southeast Asia has had a good year with Vietnam leading the way. Nguyen Quang Hai makes the list after a stellar year for his country, as does Theerathon Bunmathan who helped Yokohama F. Marinos to the J.League title.

Omar Al Somah has confirmed his status as one of Asia’s top strikers with seven goals in World Cup qualifying for Syria, the most so far. With Ali Mabkhout and Mohanad Ali bearing the standard for football in United Arab Emirates and Iraq, and the evergreen Sunil Chhetri representing South Asia once again, the jurors have a tough job selecting the winner.

BEST FOOTBALLER IN ASIA 2019 – Full 24-man shortlist


Club Nationality

Akram Afif

Al Sadd (Qatar)


Almoez Ali

Al Duhail (Qatar) Qatar
Mohanad Ali Al Shorta (Iraq)/Al Duhail (Qatar)


Sardar Azmoun

Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia) Iran

Baghdad Bounedjah

Al Sadd (Qatar) Algeria
Theerathon Bunmathan Yokohama F. Marinos (Japan)


Sunil Chhetri

Bengaluru (India) India
Salem Al Dawsari Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia)

Saudi Arabia

Sebastian Giovinco

Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) Italy
Bafetimbi Gomis Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia)


Lee Kang-in Valencia (Spain)

Korea Republic

Ali Mabkhout

Al Jazira (UAE) United Arab Emirates

Takumi Minamino

Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)


Yuto Nagatomo Galatasaray (Turkey)


Nguyen Quang Hải

Hà Nội (Vietnam) Vietnam
Yuya Osako Werder Bremen (Germany)



Guangzhou Evergrande (China) Brazil
Bassam Al-Rawi Al Duhail (Qatar)


Mathew Ryan

Brighton & Hove Albion (England) Australia
Eldor Shomurodov Rostov (Russia)


Omar Al Somah

Al Ahli (Saudi Arabia) Syria
Son Heung-min Tottenham Hotspur (England)

Korea Republic

Adam Taggart

Brisbane Roar (Australia)/Suwon Bluewings (Korea Republic) Australia
Wu Lei Espanyol (Spain)