This one supposed to be a holiday article published last Christmas week. Ack :p. Thank you for people who visited my blog during the break. So, with so many 2011 list and awards compiled, I was thinking about the thing that irks me heavily: The Asian Footballer of the Year award. Still can’t help but thinking the reason that “winning player must attend a weekday night award in Kuala Lumpur” stuff is so that more non-Japanese, South Korean, and later on Australian playing in top tier European football would not claim the prize. Or in another way, more Western Asian players would become “footballer of the year”.
So I made a quick assessment of who were actually the best players in Asia for the last decade. I am satisfied with the verdicts during the 1990s, when Sanyo sponsored the award. The silly rule began in 2002 but even in 2001 it had focused solely on Chinese performance for the World Cup qualifications, omitting a great Confederations Cup performance by Japan and Korea.
So, in this new year I’ll just throw away the grudges from past year and be happy with who I consider as the best players in the region. Yeah, the way I make my top three is so simplistic – I focus on results from international tournaments. Maybe because it’s simpler to observe, and I’m always about national teams than club. Then again, focusing on clubs’ results could be complicated for several reasons – first because there are periods when Asian champions rely too much on Brazilian goalscorers, and although players like Tim Cahill scored handful of goals in the EPL, sadly he couldn’t convert the achievement into a Champions League campaign for Everton.
Some goalkeepers might also deserve the award, like Mark Schwarzer or Noor Sabri from Iraq. But well, even not since Oliver Kahn and Fabio Cannavaro have the defense line gets the respect they deserve.
Alright, here’s the actual award and my picks. Remember, how crap my picks are, it’s still more justified than AFC’s official versions.
Official: Fan Zhiyi (China/Dundee), Abdullah Al-Sheehan (Saudi/Al-Shabab), Li Tie (China/Liaoning)
My picks: Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan/Roma-Parma), Hwang Sun-Hong (Korea/Kashiwa Reysol), Talal Al-Meshal (Saudi/Al-Ahli)
See how cool is this? This is the only time Nakata would be on the list. He played for Serie A champions before got transferred in the next season to Parma. It was the beginning of his gradual and managed decline: Parma > Fiorentina > Bolton that kind of thing. Hwang flourished in Kashiwa Reysol, the team which would gone into Asia much earlier had not for the J. League’s apertura-clausura system. For Saudi representative, I picked someone which played for Al-Ahli. If I would pick a Chinese player I would go for Xie Hui, who played for Aachen and should have been in Korea/Japan.
Official: Shinji Ono (Japan/Feyenoord), Junichi Inamoto (Japan/Fulham), Ahn Jung-Hwan (Korea/Perugia)
My picks: Ahn Jung-Hwan (Korea/Perugia-Shimizu), Junichi Inamoto, Hong Myung-Bo (Korea/Pohang)
Actually this is a fair verdict from AFC and Ono had a good season with Feyenoord. I picked on the Lord of the Ring because of his Asian-wide fame and his ability to make Perugia fumed. Yeah, discussing South Korea in 2002 Playoff Rounds is never delightful, but its defense was tight (except for Hakan Sukur) thanks to Hong’s resilience.
Official: Mehdi Mahdavikia (Iran/Hamburg), Therdsak Chaiman (Thailand/BEC), Maxim Shatsikh (Uzbekistan/Dynamo Kiev)
My picks: Hao Haidong (China/Dalian), Shunsuke Nakamura (Japan/Reggina), Therdsak Chaiman
Perhaps AFC’s pick is better than mine. Pick a starter for a Bundesliga top four club and a Europe regular. But I prefer to appreciate Hao’s performance in the ACL, and I remember 2003 as a year where people began asking if Nakamura was actually better than Nakata in many ways. Chaiman himself made a great achievement. Never again that Thailand or any Southeast Asian club becoming a serious contender for Korean, Japanese, and Saudi teams.
Official: Ali Karimi (Iran/Al-Ahli Dubai), A’ala Hubail (Bahrain/Al-Ahli Bahrain), Shunsuke Nakamura (Japan/Reggina)
My picks: Shunsuke Nakamura, A’ala Hubail, Ali Karimi
Same picks, just different order. Nakamura was instrumental for Japanese defense of the Asian Cup. This is the year when Park Ji-Sung began his European rise.
Official: Hamad al-Montashari (Saudi/Al-Ittihad), Sami al-Jaber (Saudi/Al-Hilal), Maxim Shatsikikh (Uzbekistan/Kiev)
My picks: Masashi Oguro (Japan/Gamba Osaka), Ali Daei (Iran/Saba Battery), A’ala Hubail (Al-Gharaffa)
Should Montashari be on my picks? He was superb for the ACL and Al-Ittihad is indeed a giant of the decade. But the year belongs to Oguro, both in J. League, Asia, and the Confederations Cup. At that year there was great expectations for him. Daei ruled the Road to Germany, and well, I was interested in the tragic story of Bahrain’s near qualification to Germany (perhaps influenced by yesterday South Africa 2010 game, where Bahrain lost playoff round to Vietnam 3-2; 0-1 despite dozens of shots on goal).
Official: Khalfan Ibrahim (Qatar/Al-Sadd), Bader Al-Mutwa (Kuwait/Al-Qadisiya), Mohammad Al-Shalhoub (Saudi/Al-Hilal)
My picks: Tim Cahill (Australia/Everton), Shunsuke Nakamura (Japan/Celtic), Park Ji-Sung (Korea/Manchester United)
The year of the invaders. Oh my God, I can’t believe how crappy is AFC selection for this year. This is the year where Australia had entered AFC although they competed as OFC representative in Germany. God, that was one of the saddest day in my life, 11 June 2006. Under Cahill was either Nakamura or Mark Schwarzer. And yes, Nakamura was equal to Park Ji-Sung, who was settling in in Manchester United at this time.
Official: Yasser Al-Qahtani (Saudi/Al-Hilal), Younis Mahmoud (Iraq/Al-Gharafa), Nashrat Akram (Iraq/Al-Ain)
My picks: Younis Mahmoud, Naohiro Takahara (Japan/Urawa), Yasser Al-Qahtani
Should Al-Qahtani be in number one? No. He failed to grasp victory for Saudi Arabia and living to regret it. Takahara, a shame of Japan since 2003, suddenly redeemed himself for that year.
Official: Server Djeparov (Uzbekistan/Bunyodkor), Ismael Matar (UAE/Al-Wahda), Sebastian Soria (Qatar/Qatar SC)
My picks: Park Ji-Sung (Korea/Manchester United), Ahmad Ajab (UAE/Al-Qadisiya), Server Djeparov
This is the hardest year to pick. I picked on Ji-Sung because 2008 was a great year for MU and he was a part of them. Cahill was still doing great in the EPL but again, Everton were not in Europe. So yeah, for number two, both Matar and Ajab were fair choices, seeing how did UAE national team and clubs went for that year.
Official: Yasuhito Endo (Japan/Gamba Osaka), Sayed Adnan (Bahrain/Al-Khor), Kengo Nakamura (Japan/Kawasaki)
My picks: Tim Cahill (Australia/Everton), Park Ji-Sung (Korea/Manchester United), Javad Nekounam (Iran/Osasuna)
This is actually the year where AFC respected Japan and Gamba ruled Asia. So sorry, I still didn’t pick any Japanese player for this year. Cahill went great both in England and Asia in a year where Australia prevailed once more over Japan. Park did the same, while I appreciated Iranians’ attempt to call for better freedom in their country.
Official: Sasa Ognenovski (Australia/Seongnam), Farhad Majidi (Iran/Esteghlal), Bader Al-Mutwa (Kuwait/Qadsia)
My picks: Keisuke Honda (Japan/CSKA), Lee Chung-Yong (Korea/Bolton), Lee Jung-Soo (Korea/Kashima-Al-Sadd)
Tsk, AFC’s attempt to appreciate Australian (with all respect to Sasa). With Japan and South Korea’s great achievements in South Africa, I don’t understand why AFC relied only on ACL results. Jung-Soo brought in great defensive performance for any team he was playing for.
Official: Server Djeparov (Uzbekistan/Al-Shabab), Hadi Aghily (Iran/Al-Arabi), Keisuke Honda (Japan/CSKA)
My picks: Keisuke Honda (Japan/CSKA), Koo Ja-Cheol (Korea/Wolfsburg), Ji Dong Won (Korea/Chunnam-Sunderland)
Should Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki be on this list? Yeah, had Kagawa scored more in Europe and for Japan, and had Okazaki scored more for Stuttgart. Honda passed the second semester of the year injured, but his presence has always been assuring both for Japan and for his club. I maintain that Ja-Cheol is better than Makoto Hasebe, and yeah, Ji scored that goal in 2012, but well, it proved that he is a worthy successor to Park Chu-Young (I can’t help thinking that he’d be loaned out very soon). Of course, the irony is that South Korea are yet to secure its path to Brazil 14.
Alright, the stupid AFC ghost has been banished from my mind, now 2012 is ready to beckon! First I have to get rid of that “Just another WordPress blog” thing!