Football is the game of cultures, and is celebrated by voyagers like these transcending its boundaries. Over the years, a number of Asian footballers have endeared themselves to their batches of supporters, and here are three of the most recognisable ever to do so:
The Impact of Asia in Football
In modern times, we cannot underestimate the impact of Asia in the football world.
As recently as Qatar 2022, the welcome idiosyncrasies of these nations were on full show.
Japan in particular seem to stand out every tournament, with their wonderfully wholesome fans embodying the very essence of their culture and projecting them to the world.
Not just this, but the players were pictured to have made origami ‘thank you’ swans for the cleaners and their manager bowed to travelling fans to thank them for their support. South Korea were in Qatar too – and we all know Cho Gue-Sung, don’t we?
If not, you can feel free to check out this article within our ‘Gaming’ archive. Where we looked into the bargain he represents in the latest Football Manager game. Honestly, the value is ridiculous!
But then there are a few which tend to emerge from competitions like these (or on other international stages) to garner attention further afield to make a name for themselves.
DISCLAIMER: As far as pricing goes, we’ll be using multiple sources, including historical listings on eBay and Depop, along with official reselling businesses like Classic Football Shirts, CultKits and 3Retro to name a few. We recommend you use these links as well as your own research as prices tend to fluctuate with different market conditions. Always seek financial advice before purchasing.
So, with that settled, let’s begin this list with:
Park Ji-Sung at Manchester United (2005-2012)
True to form, Park Ji-Sung became known at a World Cup, too – in 2002.
Back then, manager Guus Hiddink recognised his ability as a tireless winger as his South Korea side embarked on one of the more controversial campaigns in their history.
Nevertheless, Park’s stock was rising and his performances were enough for Hiddink to take a calculated gamble on both him and countryman Lee Young-Pyo joining him on his latest club-level venture in the Netherlands with title-chasing PSV Eindhoven.
There, Park Ji-Sung went from strength-to-strength across two full seasons before an impromptu trip by Sir Alex Ferguson in a Champions League game between PSV and Lyon (apparently to scout Michael Essien), brought him to the Scot’s attention.
Essien ended up signing for Chelsea, but Park joined United for about £4 million.
From then on, the battery-powered utility man never looked back.
Arriving just in time to join United’s most successful period in their lifetime, Park Ji-Sung was the ever-ready cog in the Manchester machine as they won three back-to-back Premier League titles and even a European and World Championship within 4 years.
Though he won’t be heralded like Rooney or Ronaldo, United fans the world over marvel at his success and he’s still a local and global hero in the Asian markets.
It helps that the ‘Vodafone’ and ‘AIG’ sponsors also remain synonymous with success for most Manchester United fans, hence why the demand for his shirts remain high – particularly with the ‘J. S. Park’ nameset, over just ‘Park’ (an easy way to spot a fake, as he adopted the former, like many of his compatriots, over the latter throughout his career).
All in all, these Asian footballers in the list need to have: crowd appeal, heroic status and a link to times that fans want to remember, and Park Ji-Sung ticks these boxes at United.
As this Sky Sports mini-documentary reveals, it’s difficult to see where South Korean football in England would be without his influence during a critical time for the competition.
HOBBY FC RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ | PRICE: £40-120 (depending on condition)
Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic (2005-09)
We just talked about needing some connection with the fans.
And few Asian footballers have done this better than Shunsuke Nakamura.
To be fair, Celtic have developed quite a good history on working with the Asian community following their acquisition of promising ballers around Japan in particular.
At the time of writing, Celtic have registered four Japanese players in their first team squad for the SPL 2022/23 season: Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi, Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi – each of whom can (and probably do) tip their hat to Nakamura.
Choosing Celtic from a variety of European suitors following 3 successful years in Reggina, a priming Shunsuke Nakamura was a revelation for the Glasgow giants.
Incredible technique, unbelievable vision and the consistency to bring it all together.
Arguably his most recognisable achievement in Celtic colours (on a more global scale), was an iconic strike scored against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League on the 13th September 2006.
His stunning free-kick effort might not have done much as far as the game was concerned (with United running out 3-2 winners on the night), but in doing so, he became the first ever Japanese player to score in Europe’s elite club competition in its 50 year history.
And that shirt – with the Carling sponsor, horizontal green and white stripes and ‘Nakamura-25’ nameset goes down in history with Celtic and other Asian footballers.
They aren’t nearly as common as Park shirts, but certainly worth its weight in value.
So, Audience? Tick. Memories? Tick. Worth the Search? TICK.
HOBBY FC RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ | PRICE: £70-150 (depending on condition)
Hidetoshi Nakata at Parma (2001-04)
It would be sacrilegious to do a list like this without Hidetoshi Nakata.
Arguably the most iconic of all the Asian footballers we’ve ever seen.
Following an incredible stint in Serie A with Perugia, Nakata followed up on that with an equally memorable year with AS Roma before Parma came calling in 2001.
From the moment he penned a world record contract for an Asian player (a record that would stand the test of team for nearly one-and-a-half decades), he was destined to be a key focus for your everyday collector in the classic football shirt community.
And I’ve chosen Parma for the design that’s become almost as iconic as Nakata himself – which the club themselves seem to acknowledge every time the subject of the Japanese man comes up.
Sponsored by Champion and delicately layered with the classic deep yellow and royal blue colours of the once-Italian giants, this shirt also comes with a very recognisable nameset that not many teams (and certainly not many players) can pull off.
It kind of looks like a Comic Sans font, with the yellow resting on the blue, just above the number with stripes in the background. Very varied. Very different. And very retro.
It also helps the sale value that Nakata’s career didn’t last that long.
Of the Asian footballers on this list – or probably any list that we will look to do here at Hobby FC – Nakata is a rare breed of player which chose a different route.
Rarer still, his later vocation into high-end fashion and runway modelling has only gone further to cement the iconicism of his status in communities far beyond football.
So, unlike Park Ji-Sung or Nakamura fans who would long for their piece of memorabilia linking to a time they remember watching, Nakata’s clam might just be interested in going for his Parma, Roma or even Bolton Wanderers kit because of the name he carried.
Though a budget of a minimum £200 is required to get your hands on something like this in solid condition, which is a far cry from that Okocha kit we looked at here, isn’t it?
HOBBY FC RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ | PRICE: £200-275 (depending on condition)
Asian football has been on the rise in the global community.
Which is something that’s only going to improve in the social media age.
As we’ve seen with the rise of K-Pop and other pan-Asian influences in various other sectors, the overall value and demand of desirable items will go that same way.
I mean, just look at the incredible trajectory of South Korean striker Cho Gue-Sung, who went from being a negligible striker at the Qatar World Cup to a social media superstar in the space of four games. The world is changing, but inclusivity is an overwhelming plus.
So, it might be best to forage further into these football cultures while that curiosity and fandom remains and persists.
Which of these Asian footballers would you most like to see in your collection?