Southeast Asia's Best Imports Ever
Written by Kenneth Tan, Vijhay Vick, John Duerden and Scott McIntyre
20. Peres de Oliveira
This Brazilian playmaker was a real crowd-puller in the S.League in the 2000s, with his outstanding technical ability and penchant for the spectacular. He spent 10 years in Singapore, winning one S.League title and four Singapore Cups with two clubs.
Arriving on the recommendation of compatriot Egmar Goncalves in 2001, Peres proved his worth with Home United with 21 goals in his debut season, 17 the following season, before scoring 30 in their title-winning season in 2003 to notch both the Golden Boot and Player of the Year awards.
With him pulling the strings in the No.10 role, Goncalves and Indra Sahdan could wreak havoc up front.
He played a big part in Home’s stunning run to the AFC Cup semi-finals in 2004 and scored his 100th domestic goal, before being allowed to leave for Tampines Rovers two years later where he scored 35 goals in 75 games.
It was a decision the club later admitted was a mistake as he re-joined the Protectors in 2008.
Despite being in his 30s, he still had magic in his boots and scored 14 goals the following season before being released in 2010 due to a fall-out with South Korean coach Lee Lim-Saeng. – KT
19. Merzagua Abderrazak
Merzagua, who was named Best Import in Malaysia in 1996, steered unfancied Penang to top division titles in 1998 and 2001. They were also runners-up in 1999 and 2000 during a glorious period for the club.
Merzagua returned to Penang as coach for the 2013 FAM League season, going on to win the third tier and earn promotion. However he was forced to leave the club as he did not have the necessary badges to coach in the top two leagues.
He completed his badges in 2015 and coached Sg. Ara FC, a small-time club in Penang, for a season. He has been link to the Panthers job every time there has been an opening since 2016. The fans would welcome him with open arms any day. – VV
18. Egmar Goncalves
Apart from his role in bringing Peres de Oliveira to Singapore, Goncalves happened to be a real performer in his own right over 11 seasons in the S.League.
He arrived in the S.League’s inaugural season in 1996 and accumulated 239 goals by the time he left in 2007. The Brazilian was not just a fox in the box, but also a selfless worker who created opportunities for his fellow attackers to score.
The deadly predator became the first player to score 100 S.League goals in 2001, the same year he hit four goals in a game to help Home thrash rivals SAFFC (now Warriors FC) in the traditionally hotly-contested Uniform Derby.
Goncalves was also the joint overall top-scorer in their run to the last four of the AFC Cup in 2004, eventually winning two S.League titles and four Singapore Cups before leaving the Lion City.
His legacy was slightly tainted by his decision to give up Singapore citizenship to return home, but there is no denying the impact he had on the fledgling Singapore league. – KT
17. Yaya Soumahoro
Not the most famous of players to ever head to this part of the world, the fact that the Ivorian moved to Belgian club Gent for around €500,000 (S$800,000) shows just how good he was.
The attacking midfielder arrived at Muangthong United in 2008 with virtually no fanfare, after all the Kirins were in the second tier. Yet Soumahoro took almost no time to settle and was soon wowing the fans with his talents. His flicks, dribbles and feints were the most eye-catching, but there was so much more on display.
As well as plenty of goals, there were assists to help United reach promotion in his first season and then he was even more influential in the top tier as Muangthong stormed to the title.
Yet it was not just the success but the way he played and acted with the fans that made him beloved by the supporters, who he loved in return. – JD
16. Frank Acheampong
Not many players called Frank have made it big in Southeast Asia, but then not many have had the talent of this explosive Ghanaian. Just 17 when he arrived at Buriram United in 2011, the winger was as raw as the ambition that drove the club forward in those early years.
Despite his tender years, he had everything you could want in an import: pace, flair and the ability to do something different that had fans on the edge of their seats as soon as he picked up the ball.
His goals and assists played a major part in that first league title in 2011, just one trophy in a famous treble. He was just as good in 2012, running rings round the Guangzhou Evergrande defence in a famous 2-1 win at the home of the continental titans.
He left for Belgian giants Anderlecht, and was more recently linked to a number of English Premier League clubs before moving to the Chiense Super League on-loan, but Acheampong will always have a special place in the hearts of Buriram fans. – JD