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Hit or miss? After Arsenal acquire Asano, 10 past PL signings from East Asia rated

| 05.07.2016

Holly Thackeray | July 4, 2016

Due to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s intriguing past as coach in Japan’s J-League with Nagoya Grampus Eight, the Gunners are always said to be eyeing the next East Asian superstar.

The north London club’s most recent attempt to tap into that growing and lucrative, but still largely unknown, market has seen Japan international prodigy Takuma Asano snapped up from Sanfrecce Hiroshima pending international clearance.

With the Chinese Premier League flushed with cash and an in-flux of talents from Japan and South Korea, the region is becoming a power in the sport.

So now, with Blue Samurai star Asano, 21, also on his way to the English capital it got Coral writers thinking about past Premier League transfers of players from East Asia. Which top-flight East Asian stars past and present can be considered a hit or a miss in England?

Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan, Bolton Wanderers 2005-06): Miss

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal - Reebok Stadium
We couldn’t start anywhere else than with Japanese football and fashion icon Nakata, who became just a cult hero on these shores but was an idol to aspiring sportsmen across East Asia.

Nifty Nakata enjoyed an illustrious club career in Italy, beginning his adventures in Perugia before moving on to big-guns Roma, Parma, Bologna and Fiorentina. By the time he arrived in England to dip his toes in the Premier League waters with Bolton though, the gifted midfielder’s career was winding down.

After labouring on loan under the restrictive tactics of Sam Allardyce, Nakata made the Trotters his last stop and hung up his boots at the early age of 29. Despite scoring just one goal in 21 league outings, the greatest Japanese player of all time still managed to make an impact with his impressive vision and skill, but unfortunately cannot be classified as a hit.

Ryo Miyaichi (Japan, Arsenal, Bolton and Wigan Athletic 2011–14): Miss

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Fourth Round - Arsenal v Chelsea - Emirates Stadium
This second Blue Samurai on our list is much easier to classify as a miss, although that may seem a tad presumptuous as Miyaichi is only 23.

Heralded as the next big thing, Arsenal fans will be hoping Asano does not go the same way as his compatriot, who failed to live up to the hype and made just one Premier League appearance for the Gunners (rated 5/1 chances with Coral to lift the Premier League) before being shipped off last summer.

Injuries did for the flexible forward, as Miyaichi struggled on loan stints abroad as well as in the English top-flight with Bolton and Wigan, for whom he scored no league goals.

Park Ji-Sung (South Korea, Manchester United and QPR 2005–13): Hit

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Everton - Old Trafford
From one of the East Asian region’s biggest Premier League flops to arguably its brightest export, Park. Having been poached from PSV Eindhoven by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2005, the South Korean superstar went on to more than justify his inclusion in some of Man Utd’s biggest moments.

A key cog in four Premier League titles, Park was regularly dubbed a Red Devils workhorse. Yet, ‘Three Lungs’ Park was not solely about pace, graft, defensive diligence and leadership, with his panache on the pitch undervalued. Arsenal fans in particular may remember a fair few stunning goals scored against them.

A poor patch with ill-fated QPR may have followed, but we can’t hold that against industrious and tactically intelligent Park in his hit or miss rating.

Shinji Kagawa (Japan, Manchester United 2012-14): Miss

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Bayern Munich v Manchester United - Manchester United Training - AON Training Complex
A sensation for Borussia Dortmund, cult favourite Kagawa struggled to live up to his savvy playmaker billing in Manchester, while the team was under transition.

Rarely used in his correct or favoured position, and unfavoured by David Moyes, the mild mannered Japanese was unable to have enough sway on games, scoring just six league goals in two seasons before returning to the Bundesliga. Talented player, wrong time to arrive at Old Trafford.

Ki Sung-Yueng (South Korea, Swansea City and Sunderland 2012-present): Hit

West Ham United v Swansea City - Barclays Premier League - Upton Park
One midfield conductor who has not struggled to make an impact in England is silky shield Ki, who fits Swansea’s possession style like a glove from his role deep in the engine room.

A tough transition from Celtic saw current South Korea skipper Ki initially shipped out on loan to Sunderland, where he helped the Black Cats avoid relegation, but a triumphant return to the Liberty Stadium awaited.

Under Garry Monk particularly, Ki also proved a threat in the final third, and continues to conduct as the heartbeat of the Swans for what will be a sixth Premier League season.

Son Heung-Min (South Korea, Tottenham 2015-present): Miss

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Premier League  -  Stamford Bridge Stadium
South Koreans are certainly dominating this list as by far the biggest exporters of talent from their region to England’s top-tier, though former Bayer Leverkusen sensation Son is yet to live up to the heavy weight of expectation.

Brought in to support Harry Kane last summer, adaptable attacker Son has failed to find his place in Spurs’ successful side just yet. Only four goals in his first season on English soil was an undoubted disappointment, though judgement is still out, as the now the flexible forward is settled ahead of a second chance saloon.

Sun Jihai (China, Manchester City 2002-08): Hit

A relative stalwart for Man City before their big cash boom, Sun deserves serious plaudits for being the first ever Chinese player to score in the Premier League. He earlier played for Crystal Palace on loan in the old First Division.

A reliable rearguard presence, Sun spent six seasons in the top-flight with the Citizens after travelling up from the then First Division with the Sky Blues, and became a robust regular. Though, injuries eventually hampered his progress and although a firm fan favourite, a huge cash injection and the arrival of Sven-Goran Eriksson soon saw him shipped off to Sheffield United.

Dong Fangzhuo (China, Manchester United 2006-07): Miss

From one China international plying their trade in Manchester to another, we next turn our attentions to the rather infamous Dong.

Less dangerman, more disaster, United (4/1 to be crowned Premier League champions) were roundly criticised in some quarters for what was considered a commercially motivated punt on the Team Dragon marksman.

For work permit issues, Dong was first loaned out to Belgian side Royal Antwerp. But, for mysterious reasons, only ever managed one Premier League appearance for Man Utd against Chelsea when the division title was already won, before being dumped.

Now 31, the forward has had a series of stops around Europe and China with his last known destination Hebei Zhongji before again dropping off the map.

Junichi Inamoto (Japan, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion 2002-06): Hit

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - West Bromwich Albion' v Fulham - The Hawthorns
Still active in his homeland with Consadole Sapporo aged 36, Inamoto had a fruitful few spells in England with mid-table teams.

Originally loaned from Gamba Osaka by Arsenal, for whom he never appeared, the all-round midfield man hooked up with the Cottagers, famously helping sink Man Utd 3-1 with one of his trademark goals.

His heroic long-range efforts garnered a huge following, with Japanese media labelling their star “bigger than Beckham”. A tibia injury ended his Fulham romance, with the Baggies thereafter taking a chance on the Blue Samurai instead.

Managerial changes meant Inamoto endured a mixed time in the Midlands but is still remembered fondly.

Shinji Okazaki (Japan, Leicester City 2015-present): Hit

Leicester City 2015/16 Barclays Premier League Champions Parade
Last but not least, a fairly recent arrival in Japan’s Okazaki had to be mentioned. A historic Premier League trophy with Leicester means the striker will go down in Foxes folklore, not least for his crucial bicycle-kick goal against Newcastle United.

Perhaps not as prolific as expected after his scoring exploits for Mainz, Okazaki brought more than his five league strikes suggests to the Foxes frontline, acting as a fantastic foil for Jamie Vardy.

Superb and selfless link-up play, plus incredible workrate up top means Okazaki was an undoubted hit in England, though he may yet go on to be an important squad play for Leicester rather than a leading man.

Notable mentions go to: Cho Won-Hee (South Korea, Wigan Athletic 2008-10), Ji Dong-Won (South Korea, Sunderland 2011-12/2013-14), Lee Dong-Gook (South Korea, Middlesbrough 2006-08), Lee Young-Pyo (South Korea, Tottenham 2005-08), Lee Chung-Yong (South Korea, Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace – 2009–12, 2014–16) Maya Yoshida (Japan, Southampton 2012-16), Zheng Zhi (China, Charlton Athletic 2006-07).


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Holly Thackeray

Holly is a member of the content team, and can often be found on the sports desk writing about favourite topics Serie A and East Asian footballing nations. A recent darts convert, she is also a fully-fledged member of Barney's Army and a proud Leeds-born Manchester United fan.