Cover Son Heung-min playing for Tottenham Hotspur. Photo: Instagram / @hm_son7

Has Euro 2020 got you bitten by the football bug? Get to know these Asian football stars before the 2021-22 European Season kicks off in August

With their world-class skills, million-dollar brand endorsement deals, and massive social media followings, Asian football players are increasingly influencing the sport both inside and outside of their home countries. If Euro 2020 has got you hooked on watching the beautiful game, read on to learn more about the most influential Asian footballers currently playing in Europe's top leagues––and the teams you can watch them playing for in the upcoming 2021-2022 European domestic season.

Related: Forbes’ Top 10 Highest-Paid Athletes in 2021

1 / 6

Son Heung-min

Position: Forward
Date of Birth: July 8, 1992
Nationality: South Korean
Current Club: Tottenham Hotspur, UK

A near-permanent fixture in the starting eleven for Tottenham Hotspur, South Korean star Son Heung-min has played in Europe for over a decade. After beginning his senior playing career in Germany with the Bundesliga club, Hamburger SV, the forward joined English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur for GBP £22 million in 2015, making him the most expensive Asian footballer in history.

As well as his impressive club record––scoring 70 goals in 195 appearances for Spurs to date––Son is a key player in the South Korean national team, representing them at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics and leading the team to victory in the 2018 Asian Cup. Despite the whole team receiving an exemption from the country's mandatory military service following the historic win, Son Heung-min completed his basic training in 2020 during the Premier League's 2020 suspension. 

After reportedly signing with the sports wing of Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency at the end of last year, it looks like 2021 will be the year the star becomes as big a deal off the pitch as he is on it. Adding to his million-dollar sporting salary, Son is already the is the face of numerous brands in his native Korea, including the best-loved Shinramyeon spicy noodles.

 

2 / 6

Takefusa Kubo

Position: Right Winger
Date of Birth: June 4, 2001
Nationality: Japanese
Current Club: Real Madrid, Spain

Up-and-coming Japanese star Takefusa Kubo is one to watch next season. Having completed a loan spell at Getafe CF, Kubo will return to parent club Real Madrid and attempt to win a place in the starting line-up for the La Liga slide. Originally hailing from Kawasaki, the young winger has represented his country in the youth squad since he was 14 years old––making his senior international debut in a friendly match against El Salvador in 2019.

Related: I Travelled From Singapore to Vancouver During a Pandemic—Here’s What It Was Like

3 / 6

Lee Kang-in

Position: Attacking Midfielder
Date of Birth: February 19, 2001
Nationality: South Korean
Current Club: Valencia, Spain

South Korean midfielder Lee Kang-in moved to Spain from Incheon, South Korea, at just 10 years old to join La Liga side Valencia's youth academy. The move––prompted after Lee impressed in a trial––paid off, with the young player now a regular first-team starter. As well as playing week in week out for the La Liga team, Lee Kang-in is a member of the South Korean national squad.

4 / 6

Takumi Minamino

Position: Attacking Midfielder
Date of Birth: January 16, 1995
Nationality: Japanese
Current Club: Liverpool FC, UK (Currently on loan at Southampton FC, UK)

After four years at Austrian Bundesliga club, FC Red Bull Salzburg, Takumi Minamino transferred to Liverpool FC for the start of the 2020 campaign––receiving a league winners medal in his first season and becoming the club's first-ever Japanese signing.

Minamino cites his footballing hero as Brazilian striker and Japan and South Korea World Cup star Ronaldo. The 2002 tournament can be seen to have started the countries' obsession with the beautiful game. A member of the Japanese national squad, Minamino scored his team's only goal in their defeat to Qatar in the 2019 Asian Cup final. 
 

5 / 6

Maya Yoshida

Position: Centre Back
DOB: August 24, 1988
Nationality: Japanese
Current Club: Sampdoria, Italy

After eight years, and 156 appearances for Premier League club Southampton, Japanese national team captain Maya Yoshida swapped the English south coast for sunnier climes when he transferred to Italian club Sampdoria in 2020. Adored by Southampton fans thanks to his solid defensive presence, Yoshida––who grew up in Nagasaki––has over 100 international caps and captained the Japanese national squad in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and the 2019 Asian Cup.

6 / 6

Hwang Hee-chan

Position: Forward
Date of birth: January 26, 1996
Nationality: South Korean
Current Club: RB Leipzig, Germany 

After impressing at youth level for club and country, Hwang Hee-chan moved from his native South Korea to play in the Austrian top flight when he was just 18 years old. Praised for his attractive, aggressive style of attacking football, Hwang is affectionately known by fans as "The Bull".

Currently playing for RB Leipzig in Germany's Bundesliga, the forward is a regular fixture in the South Korean national squad, playing in all three of the team's matches at the 2018 Russia World Cup. 

Related: Joseph Schooling on Defending His Olympic Gold and Life After Swimming