SEA's Biggest Football Exports - From Piyapong to Fandi & a Barcelona legend

Football is truly the world game, with players from all corners of the globe making their mark at some of the highest levels the sport has to offer. So what about Southeast Asia? Which footballers from our region have made the biggest impact on foreign shores?

It's not an easy question to answer. How you do define biggest? What is the criteria? Indeed, should there have been more of them by now?

The football experts at FourFourTwo put our heads together and did our best to come up with a list that was always going to be highly subjective.

Such was the brilliance of Alcantara, who until recently held the record for the most number of goals scored by a Barcelona player.

For example, how do you compare a brief performance in Australia's relatively young A-League with a stint in the lower leagues of Europe that occurred decades ago?

It's a virtually impossible exercise. But the basic criteria that we relied upon revolved around the actual impact made back home.

This is not about trophies won, goals scored or individual honours collected. It's about a footballer from a small nation igniting his home country by performing overseas, however fleeting that performance may have been.

We also had a caveat that these players need to have been groomed to some extent back home. Does a footballer with Southeast Asian heritage, but who was born, raised, learned the game and became a professional in England count as a Southeast Asian export? We say no.

Is a player who belatedly decides to use that heritage to play for the national team of his mother's birth, with no prior presence in the country, worthy? Again, we say no.

So read on to see who we think are Southeast Asia's Biggest Exports. It's sure to spark plenty of debate.

Paulino Alcantara

Playing career: 1912-1927

Achievements:

  • 5 Spanish Championships (1912/13, 1919/20, 1921/22, 1924/25 and 1925/26)
  • 10 Catalan Championships (1912/13, 1915/16, 1918/19, 1919/20, 1920/21, 1921/22, 1923/24, 1924/25, 1925/26 and 1926/27)

Where else to start, but at the very top? Arguably the greatest Asian player of all time, Philippines-born Paulinho Alcantara is a Barcelona legend.

An Asian legend in a club as illustrious as Barcelona? It’s almost unbelievable, but such was the brilliance of Alcantara, who until recently held the record for the most number of goals (369 goals in 357 games) scored by a Barcelona player.

While that record was finally broken in 2014 due to a certain Lionel Messi, the man dubbed “El Rompe Redes” (The Netbreaker) due to the power of his shots was one of the most feared forwards during his playing time.

While the top goalscorers’ record has fallen, Alcantara still holds another milestone in Barca’s annals as their youngest-ever debutant, taking the field against Catala SC aged just 15 years, four months and 18 days.

Amazingly, Alcantara would net a hat-trick that day, a sign of what was to come.

So just how did Alcantara go from the Philippines to what is today one of the most illustrious clubs in the world?

He was born in the province of Iloilo in the Philippines to a Spanish military officer father and Filipino mother, moving with his family to Barcelona when he was just three  coincidentally the same year the city’s famous football club was formed by Joan Gamper.

He joined the Barca youth team and subsequently went on to make his debut for the senior side, taking the club and the league by storm.

Only this man has scored more in Barcelona history

Paulino returned to the Philippines when he was still a teenager and won two league titles in his homeland before shifting back to the Catalan giants.

Filipinos will never forget the legend that is Alcantara, who has been immortalised with a statue outside the headquarters of the Philippine Football Federation.

Fewer players, Asians or not, have come close to matching Alcantara’s exploits. By Deepanraj Ganesan

Vorawan Chitavanich

Playing career: 1972-1987

A former Thailand national team player who was the second Thai footballer to appear in Europe after Wittaya Laohakul (seen later in this feature), Vorawan “Pum” Chitawanich is often referred to as a ‘genius midfielder’.

Vorawan learned a lot from Wittaya when they both played for Rajpracha Football Club on home soil in the mid-1980s.

Vorawan played abroad for the first time in 1985 with Tanchin Matsuyama, a football team in Shikoku, south of Japan (now known as FC Ehime).

He had 34 assists and netted nearly 20 goals in his first season before deciding to return to Thailand.

He was then eyeing a new opportunity in the growing Malaysian league, where talented foreign players were being offered big money, but a Danish scout managed to change his mind.

Vorawan headed to Europe and signed with Frederikshaun, a third-tier Danish team, in 1987, and then second division outfit Viborg a season later.

“I decided to go right away. It was a no-brainer,” he told FourFourTwo.

He was one of their core players, featuring in 25 games in his first season. Injuries then hampered his second season, but he still helped his team secure second place in the league and promotion to the old Division 1.

“It was my best year in Europe,” he recalled. “We were promoted to the top-flight league. I also won a goal of the month award that year with a bicycle kick from a free-kick that had been cleared by an opposing defender.”

After the 1990 season, Vorawan decided to return to Thailand. By Kritikorn Thanamahamongkhol

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