Best Footballer in Asia 2018: The reasons & numbers behind Son’s win

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

For the fourth time in the award’s six-year existence, Son Heung-min has been named the Best Footballer in Asia 2018.

There were no shortage of worthy contenders in a year that saw five teams represent the continent at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, as well as a plethora of Asians shining in some of the world’s biggest leagues.

In the end, Korea Republic international Son proved irresistible as he continued to shine in the Premier League with Tottenham, while providing one of the defining moments of Russia 2018 when he raced half the field towards an unguarded goal to deliver the knockout blow to defending champions Germany.

It was not just the fact that he won again but the manner in which he did that was most impressive, as he was voted first by 30 jurors and claimed an overall 206 points, claiming a monumental lead over runner-up Makoto Hasebe (7 first-place votes; 64 points overall).

No. PLAYER 1st (6 pts) 2nd (4 pts) 3rd (3 pts) 4th (2 pts) 5th (1 pt) Total
1 Son Heung-min 30 2 5 1 1 206
2 Makoto Hasebe 7 2 2 1 6 64
3 Alireza Beiranvand 2 4 3 5 3 50
4 Yuma Suzuki 1 4 6 2 2 46
5 Baghdad Bounedjah 2 3 0 2 3 31
6 Wu Lei 1 4 0 1 4 28
7 Alireza Jahanbakhsh 0 1 5 4 1 28
8 Neil Etheridge 0 5 0 3 0 26
9 Takashi Inui 0 3 3 2 1 26
10 Abdelkarim Hassan 1 2 0 4 2 24
11 Yuya Osako 0 3 1 2 1 20
12 Aaron Mooy 0 1 2 2 5 19
13 Mathew Ryan 0 2 2 0 2 16
14 Salman Al-Faraj 0 3 1 0 0 15
15 Nguyen Quang Hai 0 0 2 2 3 13
16 Akram Afif 0 3 0 0 0 12
17 Kwoun Sun-tae 0 0 2 2 1 11
18 Hwang Ui-jo 0 0 2 1 1 9
19 Marcus Berg 0 0 0 3 3 9
20 Gen Shoji 0 0 2 1 0 8
21 Jo Hyeon-woo 0 1 1 0 0 7
Sunil Chhetri 0 1 1 0 0 7
23 Valery Kichin 0 0 0 2 0 4
24 Caio 0 0 1 0 0 3
Chanathip Songkrasin 0 0 1 0 0 3
Omar Kharbin 0 0 1 0 0 3
Paulinho 0 0 1 0 0 3
28 Kengo Nakamura 0 0 0 1 0 2
Odil Ahmedov 0 0 0 1 0 2
Sardar Azmoun 0 0 0 1 0 2
Shinji Kagawa 0 0 0 1 0 2
32 Serginho 0 0 0 0 2 2
33 Andres Iniesta 0 0 0 0 1 1
Altymyrat Annadurdyyew 0 0 0 0 1 1
Daigo Nishi 0 0 0 0 1 1

Here’s what some of the judges had to say about Son’s outstanding 2018…

Truong Anh Ngoc – Vietnamese football writer and commentator (representing Vietnam): I choose Son Heung-min as No. 1 because he continues to demonstrate that he’s the leader of the Korea Republic national team and is still an inspiring player at Spurs. He led the South Korea team to win the gold medal for men’s football at Asian Games 2018 and was inspiring as ever.

Ung Chamroeun – Editor-in-Chief of ThmeyThmey (representing Cambodia): Son Heung-min deserves to win the trophy again. He is doing well with his club Tottenham Hotspur and his national team Korea Republic, and received a Premier League milestone award for his 100th appearance.

Jonathan White – Reporter of South China Morning Post (special guest judge): The story of the year came from last year’s winner Son Heung-min when he led an Under-23 side to gold at the Asian Games. His military service (and possibly his football career) was on the line and he delivered. That was great news for Spurs too, as they get to call on Asia’s most high profile footballer just as he appears to be getting better. He has an eye for the spectacular as recent English Premier League goals have shown.

Matthew Li – former report of Ta Kung Pao, football expert (representing Hong Kong): It wasn’t a “breakthough” or “truly amazing” 2018 for Son Heung-min but, as a top-ranking Asian player who has been famous for several years now, his performances were still the best among the candidates. With Tottenham, he achieved a third-place finish in the Premier League and performed well in his role assisting Harry Kane. He not only has the ability, but also displays a diligent and professional attitude.

Bakyt Shukuraliev – Reporter of AKIpress (representing Kyrgyz Republic): There’s so much to speak about Son Heung-min. He consistently proves his level in the strongest league in the world and gained exemption from military service after winning the Asian Games. He currently plays on a cosmic level.

Mohamad Iraq – Reporter of Al-ayyam (representing Palestine): I see Son Heung-min as a perfect player in the attacking aspect of the game and he is one of the best wingers in the Premier League. With great qualities such as speed, skill and technique, he creates goals for his team-mates and also scores many types of different goals on his own. For me, he deserves to be the best in Asia.

Peter Stebbings – Reporter of Agence France-Presse (special guest judge): Son Heung-min was easily the best Asian player this year. He improved from a slow start at Tottenham – nearly being sol – to become a key figure in Spurs becoming one of the best teams in the Premier League, and also scored twice for Korea Republic at Russia 2018.

Sanat Babla – Reporter of Kaler Kantho (representing Bangladesh): Son is unparalleled as no Asian is as instrumental as him for one of the world’s top teams in Tottenham. He is a true ambassador for Asian football.

Of course, as the votes suggest, Hasebe – and some others – had their fair share of supporters too!

Cedelf Tupas – Sportswriter for Philippines Daily Inquirer (representing Philippines): Japanese captain Makoto Hasebe gets my vote for top footballer in Asia this year as the veteran midfielder continued his solid performances for club and country. He captained Japan to the knockout stage of the 2018 World Cup, where they almost stunned Belgium. Hasebe provided the leadership and inspiration for the Japanese side which delivered some gritty displays in Russia and also showed class and creativity when needed. 

Gabriel Tan – Football Editor of FOX Sports Asia (special guest judge): Often underrated because of his position and style of play, there would be no one more deserving of the award this year than Makoto Hasebe, following a year which saw him play key roles in Japan becoming the only Asian side to reach the Round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, as well as Eintracht Frankfurt stunning Bayern Munich to win the DFB-Pokal.

Xavier Barret – Editor of FranceFootball (special guest judge): The most important event in 2018 was the World Cup and the two best Asian teams were Japan and Iran. In my opinion, Japan was more offensive than Iran in their play so that’s why I choose Makoto Hasebe, the Japanese captain, as he’s the guardian of their team spirit.

Arunava Chaudhuri – Indian football expert and founder of (representing India): The candidates were strong throughout and it wasn’t easy for me as there wasn’t the standout performer in Asia compared to the rest. In the end I decided to pick Hasebe as I see him regularly for Frankfurt, he won the DFB-Pokal and had strong 2018 FIFA World Cup for Japan.

John Duerden – Football writer for Guardian (special guest judge): My No. 1 pick is Alireza Beiranvand who had a perfect year, almost. He was impressive in the biggest competitions – the World Cup and AFC Champions League-  and was solid on the domestic front.

Fabio Licari – Reporter of La Gazzetta dello Sport (special guest judge): It’s not so easy this year and I don’t see an absolute standout. I think Son is always a crucial player for Korea Republic and even at Tottenham this season. Yuma Suzuki was one of the best for Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League, while it was tot easy to score against Iran and goalkeeper Beiravand deserve to be in the list. Abdelkarim Hassan is very experienced and strong defender, while Hasebe was good for Japan and in Europe.


  1. 44 judges were invited to vote for the BFA 2018. Among the 44 judges, 35 judges represented 35 AFC regions/areas, covering 23 participating teams of AFC Asian Cup 2019 (DPR Korea the only exception). Nine other jurors are from reputable media associations like FranceFootball, Agence France-Presse, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Reuters and SouthChinaMorningPost.
  2. Among all 44 jurors, Son Heung-min won 39 votes, among which 30 are 1st-picks.
  3. Son Heung-min obtained 29.2% of all points in the voting (206 of 704) in his 4th victory in BFA. It is the highest points in BFA history. The most dominant victory before this year is Son Heung-min in BFA 2017, when he obtained 23.4% of the points (157 of 672).
  4. In the past six editions of BFA, Son Heung-min has been laureated four times. The exceptions are 2013, when he was ranked 5th, and 2016, when he was ranked 3rd.
  5. Makoto Hasebe, the captain of Japanese National Football Team, won the runner-up. The veteran turns 35 on January 18. Zheng Zhi, 35 when he finished runner-up in BFA 2018, and Ante Covic, 39 when he finished third in BFA 2014, are the only two players ranked inside the top three in BFA that were older than Hasebe, who is still a regular starter of Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and Europa League.
  6. Alireza Beiranvand conceded only two goals in the 2018 World Cup in three group games, with two of the opponents being Portugal and Spain. The moment he saved Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty is a moment to be remembered for a long time in the World Cup history. The Persepolis goalkeeper won 3rd place in the BFA 2018. It is the highest ranking that an Iranian player has ever achieved in BFA history. Sardar Azmoun was 4th in BFA in 2016 and 2017 for two consecutive editions.
  7. Yuma Suzuki, the 4th (44 points) and Baghdad Bounedjah, the 5th (31 points), are two stars in the 2018 AFC Champions League. Leading the attacking line, Suzuki and Kashima Antlers climbed onto the podium of the ACL this year. Bounedjah was the top scorer of the tournament (13 goals).
  8. Apart from Makoto Hasebe and Suzuki Yuma, Takeshi Inui was ranked 9th with 24 points while Yuya Osako was ranked at 11th with 20 points. Among 35 players who won votes from the judges, seven of them are Japanese players while another five of them play in Japan. It proves again that Japan is a leading force in Asian football.
  9. Given the same points obtained (28), Wu Lei ranked 6th ahead of Alireza Jahanbakhsh by a single 1st-pick vote. The Chinese attacker, who led Shanghai SIPG in ending Guangzhou Evergrande’s seven-year dominance in the Chinese Super League with 27 league goals in 30 matches, made his best achievement in the BFA. In the past two editions, Wu Lei was twice ranked 10th.
  10. Neil Etheridge, who was ranked 8th with 26 points, is the first Southeast Asian player ranked inside the top ten in BFA history.
  11. All 24 nominees of Titan Sports’ initial nomination list won at least one vote from the judges. Apart from the 24 nominees, 11 other players beyond the list obtained points from the judges. They are: Paulinho (Brazil/Guangzhou Evergrande, 3pts). Caio (Brazil/Al Ain, 3pts), Chanatip Songkrasin (Thailand/Consadole Sapporo, 3pts), Omar Khribin (Syria/Al Hilal, 3pts), Kengo Nakaruma (Japan/Kawasaki Frontales, 2pts), Shinji Kagawa (Japan/Borussia Dortmund, 2pts), Odil Ahmedov (Uzbekistan/Shanghai SIPG, 2pts), Sardar Azmoun (Iran/Rubin Kazan, 2pts), Andres Iniesta (Spain/Vissel Kobe, 1pt), Daigo Nishi (Japan/Kashima Antlers, 1pt), Altymyrat Annadurdyýew (Turkmenistan/Altyn Asyr, 1pt).