After Son Heung-min claimed a fifth Best Footballer in Asia award, John Duerden wonders if the newest Asian on the Premier League block could be his biggest challenger in 2020.
The last person to stop Son Heung-min being named as the Best Footballer in Asia was Shinji Okazaki and it is not surprising that it took something special.
The Japanese star was involved in one of the greatest stories in modern sport as he helped Leicester City win the Premier League at odds of 5,000 to 1. At the time, the world could not get enough of the Foxes and Asia gave the striker an individual award.
Could it be that the next player to stop Son getting his hands on that familiar trophy is another man from Japan who makes a move to England’s top tier?
He’s the newly-crowned Best Footballer in Asia 2019… but just how far was 🇰🇷 Son Heung-min ahead of the likes of 🇯🇵 Takumi Minamino & 🇶🇦 Akram Afif???
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) January 4, 2020
Could it be that Takumi Minamino will end 2020 with the Best Footballer in Asia, presented by Titan Sports as Asian football’s answer to the Ballon d’Or and voted on by more than 50 journalists around the continent, in his possession?
All the ingredients are in place.
The first is that he plays for a major Asian national team in Japan. That helps.
So far, the trophy has only been picked up by Japanese or South Korean hands.
Sooner or later that is going to change but it may not come in 2020. When you play for the best national teams then you are going to be noticed more and you are also going to get more opportunities.
But Minamino has also joined Liverpool.
His exploits in the UEFA Champions League for Red Bull Salzburg brought him to the attention of clubs and media in Europe.
He has now joined the European champions, currently the best team in the world and the one more talked about than any other.
The fact that Liverpool are so strong at the moment is both positive and negative for the 25 year-old.
Nobody is expecting the former Cerezo Osaka man to get regular playing time right from the get-go. There is going to be patience both in Liverpool and Japan.
A substitute appearance here and the occasional start there will be enough for the first few months at least.
If, however, he can make an impact quickly and help Liverpool clinch a first English league title for 30 years then he will go down in the folklore at the famous club.
If he can also play a part in a successful defence of the European title, he can then become a major star around the world.
AFC Asian Cup 2019: Japan 1-2 Qatar – Takumi Minamino (69′)
If that happens then he is going to be in contention for the prize. And then there is the start following season and Japan’s continued bid to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Son’s advantage in this award is that he plays for a big club in the biggest league in the world. He has also shone in the biggest club cup competition in the world: the Champions League.
Minamino has the advantage of joining a bigger club and better team.
At the moment, Liverpool are the most celebrated team in the world and led by the most charismatic and popular manager, and playing in one of the world’s most iconic stadiums.
If Jurgen Klopp can work his magic with Minamino, then who knows how good the Japanese can become?
The question is whether Minamino can become as important for Liverpool as Son is for Tottenham Hotspur. That won’t be easy.
Another question is that if he can’t be as crucial as Son then how important does he have to be to win the prize – assuming that Son’s performances in 2020 are similar to 2019.
Minamino finished third in 2019 though was far behind the dominant Korea Republic international. Yet perhaps not that much has to change to make the jump two places higher.
He may not be able to match Son in terms of minutes, goals and excitement but – as he is at Liverpool – he may not have to.
If an Asian player can make a difference at the best team in the world then there will be journalists and observers all over the giant continent who will be waiting to cast their votes for the exciting new Red.