Asia 50 Money Men: The 10 most expensive Asian footballers ever
5. Keisuke Honda: VVV-Venlo to CSKA Moscow, 2000 – €9 million
Honda was a fan favourite at Dutch club VVV-Venlo, his first European stop back in 2007. The fans called him ‘Keiser Keisuke’, or Emperor Keisuke, reflecting their admiration towards the Japanese star.
Russian giants CSKA Moscow then pounced two seasons later as he earned his first chance to play in the UEFA Champions League.
He scored against Sevilla with a stunning free-kick in the round of 16 in the 2010/11 season in only his second game in the prestigious tournament.
He helped his Russian club to a league and league cup double before moving to AC Milan in Serie A in 2014, where he continues to reside today.
4. Shinji Okazaki: Mainz to Leicester City, 2015: €9.5 million
The Japanese striker showed he had no problem settling in major European leagues as he netted 27 goals in his 65 appearances in the Bundesliga both for Stuttgart and Mainz following his shift from first club Shimizu S-Pulse.
Leicester City then decided to take him to the Premier League and he played his role in the Foxes’ fairytale league triumph in the 2015/16 season, making 36 league appearances under Claudio Ranieri.
This season, Okazaki remains one of the club’s core players and took part in the Foxes’ impressive Champions League run as they reached the quarter-finals before being knocked out by Atletico Madrid.
3. Shinji Kagawa: Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United, 2012 – €16 million
Kagawa’s football career started surprising early – getting his first professional contract signed with Cerezo Osaka when he was still in high school.
He then caught the world’s attention when he signed for Borussia Dortmund in 2010. In his initial two-year spell at Signal Iduna Park, Kagawa won the league twice and a double in 2012 and became a wanted man by major clubs across Europe.
Manchester United would win the race, signing him for 16 million euros, where Kagawa would become the first Asian player to score a hat-trick in England en route to a Premier League title in his first season at Old Trafford.
After the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, successor David Moyes indicated the Japanese superstar was not part of his plans and in 2014 Kagawa decided to move back to Dortmund.
2. Hidetoshi Nakata: Roma to Parma in 2001 – €26 million euros
Starting his career in Japan back in the mid-1990s, Nakata was transferred firstly to Perugia and then on to Roma, where he was largely used as a back-up to superstar Francesco Totti.
He played well whenever he had a chance, helping the team win the league title in 2000/01, scoring a wonder goal to help Roma to an important draw against Juventus late in the season.
His transfer fee, therefore, was much higher than for most substitute players and he was desperate to prove he could make a difference and deserved more than to be in Totti’s shadow when he departed for Parma.
Nakata helped Parma to win the Coppa Italia in his first year at the club, but his overall performances did not meet such high expectation, mostly due to injuries.
Nakata spent two years at Parma before moving to Bolton in England and then retiring at the relatively young age of just 29.
1. Son Heung-min: Bayer Leverkusen to Tottenham Hotspur, 2015 – €30 million
Rather than starting his career in his homeland, Son took a more difficult path, making his way from the Hamburger youth team in Germany through to the second team and then the senior squad.
His talent took him to Bayer Leverkusen in 2013 and that was the first time he played in the UEFA Champions League, performing at a very high level as his market value skyrocketed.
After establishing himself as a star and fan favourite at Leverkusen, Tottenham then shelled out a hefty €30 million (S$46.5 million) to buy the “Korean Cristiano Ronaldo”.
After spending a little time adjusting to English football, Son finally brought out his best performances this season, winning two Premier League player of the month awards and scoring some crucial goals in Spurs’ excellent season.