As grassroots development continues to improve across Asia, observers from outside of the region are starting to take note of the continent’s young talent. The Guardian’s list of 50 of the most talented players born in 1998 features several Asian players who are expected to make an impact in the coming years.
August 5, 1998
Praising his “silky skills, a penchant for a mazy dribble and an eye for goal,” writer Mike Hytner highlighted the playmaker’s apparent choice to play for Australia over America, where he was born, or Greece, where he would be eligible through his heritage. The Watford youth product joined the Serie A side despite interest from several top Premier League clubs.
May 31, 1998
Asian football expert John Duerden touts the Zob Ahan attacker as a successor to Javad Nekounam, noting that he has already reached Iran’s Under-23 side at the tender age of 17. But will the country’s program allow the youngster to develop into a Team Melli star?
June 16, 1998
Earlier this season, the 17-year-old turned heads by becoming the youngest player to appear for Gamba Osaka in a J1 League match. “Ritsu Doan represents the beginning of a new generation for Japanese football – born two days after the milestone of Japan’s first game at a World Cup finals, and already in training for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020,” notes Japanese football expert Ben Mabley. The left-footed player could soon be making headlines as an attacker, but can also hold the line as a defensive midfielder or left back.
April 25 Sports Club
September 11, 1998
As the reclusive nation invests more efforts into sending young players abroad, John Duerden touts Han a player who “could become the first North Korean global star,” noting his time spent in Spain and penalty area composure as significant assets. Han was a key figure in North Korea’s 2014 AFC U-16 Championship run and he’s sure to turn heads in the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
January 6, 1998
At just 17 years old Lee is already making headlines; unfortunately, he is most often portrayed as the victim of Barcelona’s recent transfer ban, which forced an exile of many young stars from the team’s academy. The player known as “The Korean Messi” will be able to play for Barcelona B after turning 18 in January, and he’s demonstrated a “cocky” attitude that, according to Duerden, “could be just what South Korea needs.”
To see what else the Guardian had to say about these players and the rest of the list, check out their Next Generation 2015 feature.