Football in the continent of Asia came to the fore when Japan and South Korea successfully co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The global showpiece event helped beam a spotlight on the development of the sport in Asian countries.
South Korea’s progress to the semifinals of the tournament also boosted the reputation of the country’s players. Many of these footballers have since gone on to enjoy mainstream success in European football.
Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Australia are among the bonafide heavyweights of Asian football. They are followed by other nations like Qatar, India and China PR who have made concerted efforts in the last decade to improve their pedigree in the sport.
Asian football is still a long way off the standards set by most other confederations. But there is a growing belief that the continent could witness a quantum leap in the coming years.
Players of Asian descent have not historically been too rampant at top clubs in Europe. However, some renowned names like Park Ji-Sung, Hidetoshi Nakata, Ali Daei and current Tottenham star Son Heung-min have all made a mark on the global game.
Footballers today command hefty fees in both transfer sums and renumeration figures. Asian players have historically not commanded transfer fees as high as their counterparts from other continents.
However, the performance of current stars like Son, Takefusa Kubo and Mehdi Taremi could help change the narrative in the coming years.
Here is a rundown of the five most expensive Asian players in football history.
#5 Shinji Kagawa – €13m (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United, 2012)
Shinji Kagawa impressed in his native Japan at Cerezo Osaka before sealing a move to Europe with Borussia Dortmund in 2010. He blossomed under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, leading to interest in his services across Europe’s elite.
Manchester United won the race for Kagawa’s signature and completed his purchase for the sum of €13m in the summer of 2012. Things did not go to plan for the former Japan international at Old Trafford, however, and he returned to Dortmund after just two years in the Premier League.
#4 Alireza Jahanbakhsh – €19m (AZ Alkmaar to Brighton and Hove Albion) – 2018
Alireza Jahanbakhsh began his career with Iranian side Damash Tehran and it did not take too long for his ability from midfield to be noticed globally. The Eredivisie came calling for the Iran international and he spent five highly successful seasons with AZ Alkmaar.
His performance for AZ led to Brighton and Hove Albion sanctioning Jahanbakhsh’s purchase for a club-record fee of €19m.
The 27-year-old spent three seasons at Brighton but several injury problems limited his contributions. In total, he made 50 Premier League appearances for the Seagulls but scored just two goals, one of which was a spectacular bicycle kick against Chelsea.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh with the overhead kick equaliser against Chelsea 😱😱😱 pic.twitter.com/cX4JH8EIvQ— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 1, 2020
His horrific time with Brighton was brought to an end in the summer of 2021 through a return to the Eredivisie. Feyenoord came calling and Jahanbakhsh promptly departed the English shores.