Asia 50, 2017: A groundbreaking Indonesian helps kick things off
No.45 Trent Sainsbury
It has been quite an 18 months for the Australian defender. For many, just heading to the Chinese Super League to play alongside big-money stars such as Alex Teixeira and Ramires would have been enough, but there was much more to come.
Sainsbury was an authoritative presence in the middle of the Jiangsu Suning defence, playing his part as the Nanjing team finished second in 2016.
It was expected that he would then be an integral part of the team as it attempted to go one better this season, both at home and in Asia.
Instead, he was soon off to Italy to join Inter Milan, one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Playing time in Serie A has been non-existent so far, although he is still active with Australia and their quest to reach another World Cup.
A proper taste of Italy and it really would have been a year to remember. – John Duerden
No.44 Kim Jin-Su
At the 2015 AFC Cup, South Korea finally found the left-back they had been looking for ever since the retirement of former Tottenham Hotspur defender Young-Pyo Lee.
Kim Jin-Su was the only Korean to play every minute of Korea’s six games, providing speed, versatility and his accurate left-foot as his nation made it all the way to the final, losing to Australia in extra-time.
Following two frustrating seasons with Bundesliga club TSG Hoffenheim, Kim joined Jeonbuk Hyundai in the K-League in 2017 and blew away any doubts about his ability by scoring with a free-kick on debut.
With two goals and three assists in his first 10 games so far, Kim has added his attacking talents to the 2016 AFC Champions League champions.
The 24-year-old, who is also known for his long throw-ins, has also regained his place in the national team thanks to his performances in the K-League. - Jaemin Hong
No.43 Kengo Nakamura
Proving age is merely a number, this former Japanese international was the heartbeat of Kawasaki Frontale in their J.League title challenge in 2016.
Frontale finished second in the league standings before losing to eventual winners Kashima Antlers in the championship semi-finals, but a certain 36-year-old could certainly keep his head high.
Nakamura’s efforts did not go unnoticed as he became the oldest player to win the J.League Player of the Year award at the end of 2016.
He scored nine goals in 31 appearances from midfield and became the first Frontale player to bag the award.
Nakamura, who has appeared for Japan 68 times, was also named in the J.League Best XI for the sixth time.
His Frontale side, meanwhile, topped its group in this year’s Asian Champions League and will take on Thai club Muangthong United in the round of 16. – Vijhay Vick
No.42 Yuya Osako
He started his career at Kashima Antlers in the J.League in 2009 before taking his talents to Germany four years later, first with TSV 1860 Munchen and then FC Koln, where he became a regular contributor.
An attacking midfielder who had scored eight goals in his 30 appearances for his club at the time of writing, he’s keen on forging his own identity and doesn’t like comparisons to some of his compatriots.
”There is no comparison. Big players like (Shinji) Kagawa or (Atsuto) Uchida can’t even go shopping in Japan without being noticed. For me, that’s no problem,” Osako said when asked about his reputation in his home country.
While he may not enjoy their profile, Osako is putting together an impressive career, including being voted Bundesliga Player of the Month for January after his fantastic displays with an assist and two goals against Darmstadt.
That gave him the nod ahead of fellow January candidates Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben. – Tio Utomo
No.41 Nam Tae-Hee
The fact he has been given the nickname of the “Qatar Messi” by Qatari football fans tells you all you need to know about this versatile, attacking threat.
He has every aspect required of a strong No.10 – great vision, technique, dribbling skills and, of course, fantastic free-kicks.
He has forged a slightly unusual path in his career for an Asian player, commencing with Reading FC’s academy back in 2007 before signing his first professional contract with French club Valencienne FC two years later.
He made his professional debut against AS Nancy at the age of 18 and spent just over two years in France before moving to Qatari club Lekhwiya in January 2012 seeking more playing time.
It proved a wise move as the 25-year-old quickly made a big impact in the Middle East.
He became the club’s all-time top-scorer in December 2016 and capped off an outstanding 12 months by being named Qatar player of the year on May 20, beating Xavi Hernandez and Hassan Al-Haidos to the award. – Jaemin Hong