More often than not, it is European or South American players who dominate world football. However, with the global appeal and popularity that the Beautiful Game has and with more and more youngsters taking to the sport across the globe, all that might be about to change.
Asia has been one such region where the game of football has always been very popular. Though the continent has produced its fair share of stars in football, it hasn’t yet produced a global superstar along the likes of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
But could the future really be Asia? FOX Sports Asia takes a look at five Asian youngsters who have the potential to dominate world football in the coming years.
5. EGY MAULANA VIKRI (Indonesia, Lechia Gdansk)
‘Egy Messi’ is the standout star of the Indonesia U19 squad that just reached the quarterfinals of the AFC U19 Championship for the first time in 40 years and are one win away from booking a ticket to the 2019 FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland — their first since the 1979 edition held in Japan.
Already a full international for Timnas, the 18-year-old is also expected to play a part in the senior squad’s 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign which starts next month. Now plying his trade with Lechia Gdansk in Poland’s top flight Ekstraklasa, Egy was reportedly also scouted by AFC Ajax, Getafe, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Espanyol, and Saint-Etienne among others.
The attacking midfielder is one of the very few from Southeast Asia to have taken their game to Europe, but after earning rave reviews for his recent exploits which included winning the Breakthrough Player of the Year Award at the 2017 Toulon Tournament, Egy is expected to break the glass ceiling for ASEAN youngsters in this regard.
4. QIANGLONG TAO (China, Hebei China Fortune FC)
The Chinese attacker is another forward who has featured in the AFC U19 Championships which is in progress in Indonesia, however, the junior Red Dragons have suffered a shock exit from the continental competition after suffering defeats at the hands of Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia.
The 16-year-old, however, impressed in patches despite his team’s poor showing starting the game against the Tajiks as a left-sided attacker and then playing as a second striker in the defeat to Saudi. The striker is also equally adept at playing on the other wing proving his versatility.
Tao recently moved to Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune FC from Beijing Guoan and is now under the wings of former Wales national team manager Chris Coleman. The move is perfect if the youngster is looking to learn from the best as he has the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Mascherano and Hernanes to watch and learn from.
3. ALLAHYAR SAYYADMANESH (Iran, Esteghlal FC)
Sayyadmanesh might be just 17 years of age, but the Iran attacker is already a star for Esteghlal FC, one of the biggest clubs in the Persian Gulf Pro League. He has already made six appearances in the league so far this season scoring once and assisting two others in just 214 minutes of action.
He is coached by former Cameroon and Thailand manager Winfried Schäfer and has the likes of Pejman Montazeri and Rouzbeh Cheshmi who represented Iran at the 2018 FIFA World Cup for guidance at the former Iranian champions. The hot prospect also played a key role as the Asian nation reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup in India.
Iran failed to qualify for the main draw of the AFC U19 Championship, but that could well be a blessing in disguise for Sayyad as he looks to establish himself as a first-team member at his club side.
2. TAKEFUSA KUBO (Japan, Yokohama F. Marinos)
He is known as the Japanese Messi and rightly so as well. Kubo has already spent the best part of his formative years at Barcelona before being forced to return to his homeland, as a 14-year-old, following FIFA sanctions on the Catalunian club for acquiring underage players from outside of Spain.
Moving to FC Tokyo after his European stint, Kubo became the youngest-ever player to score a goal in the Japanese football league pyramid at the age of 15 years and 10 months. 2017 saw Kubo feature for the Samurais at both the FIFA U17 and U20 World Cups. He is currently with the Japan U19 squad at the AFC U19 Championship but has been used sparingly by his manager with big games in mind.
The prodigious Japan attacker recently moved to Yokohama F. Marinos on loan and scored on his J1 League debut against Andres Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe. With his stock still on the rise, a move back to Barcelona once he turns 18 has been rumoured while top European clubs including Paris Saint-Germain are also reportedly keeping track of the youngster.
1. KANGIN LEE (South Korea, Valencia CF)
The 17-year-old Korean tops the list and what more to justify it than a €80 million release clause to his Valencia contract. Lee has been at the La Liga club’s youth academy since 2011 and has progressed over the years to make the preseason squad at the Mestalla club this summer.
“I have been here for seven years and my dream has always been to play at the Mestalla with the first team. It’s a dream for all of us to be here. I want to play in La Liga and I need to keep working hard to do so. This is a club that looks out for its young players,” said Lee on signing his new contract last July.
Surprisingly, Lee became popular in Korean households way before signing for a professional club through a reality television show named Shoot Dori. He later signed for Incheon United but was soon on the move again as interest came from Europe’s top clubs.
It has been recently reported that Valencia are touting to apply for a Spanish citizenship for Lee who has lived in the country for seven years now. This will also allow the youngster to avoid the mandatory 21-month military service that he will have to serve in his home country before he turns 28 — that is unless he wins an Olympic medal or Asian Games gold like Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min did a couple of months ago!