Got over the World Cup blues? Eiji Kawashima and Shinji Okazaki have to. Belgian Pro League has restarted (at the moment he’s at the rope, having conceded two goals). He also kept clean sheet in UEFA Champions League against Panathinaikos, and must face Athens’ hospitality in three days time. Meanwhile, Okazaki scored the only goal for Mainz 05 in Europa League against another Greek side, Asteras Tripoli.
So far so good – while Kagawa and Honda are in United States, trying to keep their jobs. So let’s see how things are going to be for the rest of 2014 for Asia’s best footballers.
1. Shinji Kagawa (Japan)
Current club: Manchester United
Positions: Attacking midfielder, left midfielder
Club record last season: 30 appearances, 0 goal.
Bad. He’s still on the clean-up list of Louis van Gaal. On the up side, he can be a substitute for Juan Mata.
In my life, however, fact often follows fiction, life often imitates arts. I played FIFA 14 with Kagawa in Atletico Madrid, and the Borussia Dortmund of Spain do have an interest for him. For 14 million pounds. I think he’d better to take the offer. Complication may arise when old love Dortmund calls again.
2. Keisuke Honda (Japan)
Current club: Milan
Positions: Attacking midfielder (country), right midfielder (club)
Club record last season: 16 appearances, 2 goals.
Plus, he scored in Brazil. It’s a wonder how come he keeps on ending behind Kagawa. Certainly he has worse time in Milan than Kagawa did in Manchester.
The news is he visited FC Dallas. And that’s about it. Dallas, of course, have their own Designated Players (United States and Australia try to limit the amount of expensive imports while at the same time ensure that some notables play for the club) – Argentina Mauro Diaz, the number 10, Uruguayan striker David Texeira, and Dynamo Kiev’s loan Andres Escobar (yes, he’s Colombian).
So it seems this season Honda will stay in Milan. Whether the number 10 will play enough in the field is another matter.
3. Yuto Nagatomo (Japan)
Current club: Internazionale
Positions: Left midfielder (club), left back (country)
Club record last season: 36 appearances, 5 goals.
Now we are talking. Too bad he was helpless in Brazil. Like Kagawa (maybe less with Honda), he’s pretty enjoying his working holiday in United States. Rotations may happen, but he will start the game more often than Honda and Kagawa.
4. Ali Al-Habsi (Oman)
Current club: Wigan Athletic
Club record last season: 18 appearances
Mark Schwarzer is still Asia’s best goalkeeper, but at this rate he seems vouching to be Chelsea’s goalkeeper coach (Schwarzer may occasionally appear in League Cup – or for some reason Mourinho has some feeling that Courtouis and Cech may be injured at the same time).
Asia’s second best goalkeeper is Ali al-Habsi. Last season he played in the Championship and shared time with Scott Carson. Welcome back to the Premier League, Ali.
5. Hajime Hosogai (Japan)
Current club: Hertha Berlin
Positions: Defensive midfielder, central defender.
Club record last season: 33 appearances, 0 goal.
Tell me again, was he injured just before the World Cup? Otherwise it was a total foolishness to omit him from Japan 23. Now sporting the proud number 7, he’s expected to teach some naughty things related to Berlin nightlife (I hope he would) to junior Genki Haraguchi.
6. Koo Ja-cheol (Korea)
Current club: Mainz 05
Position: Attacking midfielder
Club record last season: 14 appearances, 1 goal.
Mainz 05 is the most Asian club in Bundesliga, with four players from three countries (added with Australia’s Nikita Rukavytsya). Koo is the club’s main attacking midfielder, and yesterday he played 75 minutes in Europa League before being substituted by Niki Zimling. He’ll do fine this season, as long he’ll score at least five goals (eight is preferable).
7. Shinji Okazaki (Japan)
Current club: Mainz 05
Positions: Striker, right midfielder
Club record last season: 35 appearances, 15 goals.
If Japan has the closest thing to a number nine, he is Okazaki. He did score in the World Cup, but not enough. As I argued, not only because he might have received better passes and crosses from Mainz team mates than from fellow Samurais, but also because he had much lighter burdens in Bundesliga than in the World Cup.
He’s off to the new season with good start after scoring against Tripoli, and that what made Mainz excited, Bundesliga delighted (you got an Asian fan here. Bye bye overrated Premier League. Bundesliga is the real deal), and Japan can rebound fast toward Australia 2015. What’s more, Okazaki relieved he could break through a Greek phalanx, so he could get over World Cup completely. I’m not sure if he can repeat his 15 goals record this season, but he can come close. It’d be nice if he can score in DFB Pokal – and more in Europe.
8. Son Heung-min (Korea)
Current club: Bayer Leverkusen
Position: Left winger
Club record last season: 43 appearances, 7 goals.
Here’s another star that needs to get over Brazil. Leverkusen go to Seoul and Son has the time to get himself a girlfriend, Girl’s Day’s (that’s plenty of apostrophe) Bang Minah. Her name is not flattering at all in Indonesian but I’m sure it sounds sweet in Korean. So, two things. First, it’d be all long distance since a Korean pop idol’s agenda is way busier than a CEO. Second, any show host will make a Son reference to Minah whenever possible. And Son will have much more air time (he’s got plenty) in Korean TVs. He’s also expected to join Korea U-23 in the Asian Games held in Incheon, as Korea want to win gold medal in men’s football so badly. Korea have 3 slots for players over 23, but luckily Son is 22.
9. Hiroshi Kiyotake (Japan)
Current club: Hannover 96
Position: Attacking midfielder
Club record last season (with Nurnberg): 34 appearances, 3 goals.
The forgotten attacking midfielder, perpetually behind Kagawa and Honda. Actually if Japan go for 4-2-3-1, he can be the right attacking midfielder along with Honda and Kagawa, behind Okazaki. Hannover is a mediocre club and Kiyotake will be a normal player in Bundesliga, which is just fine.
10. Mile Jedinak (Australia)
Current club: Crystal Palace
Positions: Defensive midfielder, central midfielder
Club record last season: 38 appearances, 1 goal.
It’s hard to choose the last player. Lee Chung-yong? Another season with Bolton in Championship. Ashkan Dejagah? I would have, if only Al-Arabi, his new club, had been in AFC Champions League. Vitaliy Denisov? I don’t want to know anything that has to do with Russia at the moment (there was a time where I followed Russian Premier League). Ki Sung-yong and Kawashima are also valid options, but I need to insert an Australian.
After all, Australia will host the Asian Cup, where I want the Socceroos to win (it’d be boring if Japan win again). Therefore, it’s important to see which player will lead them. Well, it’d be between Jedinak again, then Robbie Kruse trying to redeem himself in Leverkusen, Cahill, and Mat Ryan who has to stay in Belgium at the moment.
Jedinak was credited as the man who kept Crystal Palace doing well in the Premier League, and was close to achieve the impossibility of playing for 38×90 minutes (injury against Fulham prevented him from unlocking this gold trophy) in the Premier League.
Healed and rested, Jedinak spent late July touring United States with Crystal Palace and I look forward to see how he’s doing in the Premier League.