Asia 50 Reflections: Seven stars of Europe over the past 20 years

The success of Asian players in the 1990s and 2000s led to more European teams looking at players from the continent. These seven players would waltz into FourFourTwo’s Asia50 if their exploits were in the present day...

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The Japanese icon wasn't the first from his country to play in Serie A, but he certainly made more than a lasting impression, while off the field he was a fashion icon.

Ask anyone in Asia who followed European football in the 2000s and they would be aware Nakata was playing in Italy.

His Italian adventure began at Perugia after the 1998 World Cup and he had a first season to remember as he bagged 10 goals in 33 appearance.

Half-way through the following season, AS Roma came calling. He moved to Rome and managed over 30 appearances over two seasons despite playing second fiddle to a certain Francesco Totti, lifting the 2000/01 Serie A title.

Nakata later spent three seasons at Parma and had stints with Bologna and Fiorentina before a final swansong at Bolton Wanderers in England in the 2005/06 season.


The English Premier League has seen a number of Asians – including the likes of Son Heung-min and Shinji Okazaki in the present day – but none can come close to what Park achieved at Manchester United.

In the Korean’s medal collection are four league titles, four Community Shields, three League Cups, a UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Park’s European journey took flight after a successful 2002 World Cup, where the co-hosts finished a remarkable fourth. He joined PSV Eindhoven and won two Eredivisie titles and the KVB Cup in three seasons before moving to Old Trafford.

Park left for Queen’s Park Ranger in July 2012 and returned to PSV the following season, where he retired after one year, later becoming a Manchester United ambassador.


Daei isn't quite a name as prominent as the other two featured above, or some of those listed below, but the Iranian holds his own despite not being a regular starter with Bayern Munich in the 1998/99 season.

The forward still managed 31 appearances and six goals across all competition as Bayern won the Bundesliga and finished runners-up in the Champions League.

Daei, Asia's Footballer of the Year in 1999, then spent three seasons with Hertha Berlin before joining Al-Shabab in the United Arab Emirates and then returning to Iran in 2003.

As a coach, Daei returned to Persian Gulf Pro League side Saipa in 2017, the same team he ended his playing career with and also made his managerial debut with back in 2006. He has coached six other teams in between, including Team Melli.