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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

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

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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