John Duerden reviews the top ten of the Best Footballer in Asia 2019 award and there is no better person to start with that five-time winner Son Heung-min of Tottenham and Korea Republic fame.
It was not a surprise that Son Heung-min has won the Best Footballer in Asia award for a third successive year.
The Korea Republic international has, after all, had another stellar year, but the way he dominated the voting was unprecedented.
The Tottenham Hotspur star left the rest of the field behind in Asia much the same way as he sprinted clear of the Burnley defence in December to score what could be the goal of the 2019/20 Premier League season.
He received a record share of the vote from over 50 journalists based all over Asia. Son has played consistently well at the highest levels of world football. As well as being an exciting player on the pitch, he is charismatic and popular off it. He is still the poster boy of Asian football and, again, a worthy winner of the 2019 BFA Award.
There were worthy challengers though.
Akram Afif has had a stellar year which was reflected in a second-placed finish, equalling the best-ever performance from a West Asian player in the award’s history.
It started in January with an amazing ten assists as Qatar won AFC Asian Cup 2019. A whole continent witnessed a new and exciting attacking talent bamboozle some of the best defences on the continent. That form stayed for pretty much the whole year with the Maroons, as well as Al Sadd.
Taking the ‘bronze’ spot on the podium is Takumi Minamino. The Japanese star was on the scoresheet in that Asian Cup final as the Samurai Blue ended up losing to Qatar but the graceful star went from strength to strength in Europe for Red Bull Salzburg.
The Austrian title was captured once more but it was the UEFA Champions League where he really shone and impressed against Liverpool so much that he ended the year with a transfer to the European champions.
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At the moment, there is no doubt that starring in the big leagues in Europe and especially the UEFA Champions League is going to help your profile and lead to more prizes.
The fact that Almoez Ali is fourth shows what a year it has been for Asian football. The striker scored a record nine goals at the Asian Cup and is not in the top three. One thing for sure is that the 23 year-old, is – like his compatriot in second – going to be a feature in this prize for some years to come.
It has not been a vintage year for the Iran national team but Sardar Azmoun still managed to take fifth. The striker has been scoring goals for Zenit St Petersburg and Iranian fans have long wondered when he will get the move to a bigger European league and the year ended with strong links to a move to England.
The highest-placed non-Asian player is Bafetimbi Gomis and rightly so. The former French international took the Champions League by storm, scoring 11 goals as Al Hilal put the heartbreak of 2014 and 2017 behind them to take the continental title. That Saudi Arabian success also helped Salem Al Dawsari end in 8th spot.
In between the Al Hilal duo in 7th is Wu Lei, who has been rewarded for a brave decision taken early in the year. The winger followed a fine Asian Cup with a move to Espanyol.
There were plenty who doubted whether the biggest homegrown star of the Chinese Super League was good enough for La Liga but he has proven a lot of people wrong. Wu settled quickly and helped the Spanish team qualify for the Europa League.
Baghdad Bounedjah is the 6th West Asian-based player, a fact which shows that the region has had a very good year, to make the list, taking 9th place. The Algerian ace ended the 2018-19 Qatar league season with 39 goals in 22 appearances. In the new campaign, he has ten from eight.
AFC Champions League 2019: Shandong Luneng 0-1 Guangzhou Evergrande (Paulinho 13′)
And Paulinho is in 10th. The Brazilian star has had another stellar season for Guangzhou Evergrande in China and even finished second in the Chinese Super league goalscoring charts. The midfielder has to be one of the best and most consistent foreign players to play in Asia – ever – and making the top ten of the BFA awards is another feather in a very decorated cap.
There were plenty of other performances of note over what has been another great year for Asian football.
The debate is about to start again.