The demographics of football supporters are changing rapidly. When once football was a sport primarily divided along international borders, it is now a thoroughly globalized game. Following the transfer of the Venezuelan Fernando Amorebieta to Fulham this summer, a total of 100 countries had been represented in the Premier League (an interesting interactive map can be found here if you’re interested). There is also a massive and global Premier League fan base to accompany the diversity of countries showcased in the league. This fan base, particularly in Southeast Asia, represents a widely untapped market and is rife with opportunities for football clubs to expand their brand. How, then, can clubs capitalize on these growing economic markets?

One way to capitalize on untapped football markets is to sign players from under-represented countries. It is hardly news when a player from France (167 Premier League players), Spain (77 players) or even Ireland (148 players) signs for an English club. When Park Ji-Sung signed for Manchester United, however, the club instantaneously became the go-to Premier League side for 50 million South Koreans (as of today, only 11 South Koreans have ever played in the Premier League). When Park moved to QPR at the beginning of last season, moreover, the small London-based club drew fans from across the Korean peninsula (an interesting article on the subject may be found here). Though Premier League-quality Southeast Asian players have historically been hard to come by, a player who is of this quality and has the potential to singlehandedly export the name of his club back to his country of origin would be a highly valuable commodity for any club.

Liverpool have been making advances in Asia in recent times – specifically through the formation of academies in India and Indonesia – and FSG’s commitment to increasing the club’s profile in the region should be commended. Liverpool is already a major name in the world’s most populous area (primarily challenged by Manchester United) and the signing of a player from this region could solidify the Merseyside club’s spot as its foremost Premier League team. Accordingly, here are five players whose signing would greatly benefit Liverpool Football Club, both on the field and in its efforts to expand its brand in Asia.

Hiroshi Kiyotake, Japan, Attacking Midfielder, 1. FC Nürnberg, 24 (£8.5-10m)

While his name might not yet be as well-known as Keisuke Honda or Shinji Kagawa, but Hiroshi Kiyotake is a star on the rise. Now in his second season at the Bundesliga’s lowly FC Nurnberg, Kiyotake is a comprehensive playmaker, capable of playing in the hole behind the striker or on the right in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Slight of build yet agile and quick on the dribble, comparisons with Liverpool’s own Coutinho are certainly warranted. In 16 starting appearances so far this season for Nurnberg, Kiyotake has recorded 2 goals and 4 assists from 42 total chances created (compared to Coutinho, who has created 28 chances and 2 assists from 15 appearances). This high chance creation is typical of Kiyotake’s game, since only three players in the Budesliga created more goal-scoring opportunities than Kiyotake last season. His dribbling skills are also noteworthy, as only four players in last year’s Bundesliga bettered his successful take on rate of 63%. Kiyotake is also highly regarded for his crossing and set piece abilities, and could ultimately take over Steven Gerrard’s dead ball responsibilities. Liverpool should take the opportunity to sign the talented playmaker this January before his value doubles after the World Cup. Considering that only 6 Japanese players have ever played in the Premier League, Liverpool has a large number of potential fans to gain from Kiyotake’s signing.

Heung-Min Son, South Korea, Center Forward, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 21 (£14-20m)

Following Andre Schurrle’s sale to Chelsea last summer, Sami Hyypia turned to the Hamburg’s Heung-Min Son to provide penetration and attacking verve from Leverkusen’s left wing, and the young South Korean hasn’t disappointed this season for Leverkusen. In comparison to last season, when Son scored 12 goals and provided 2 assists while averaging 1.4 dribbles per game in 33 total appearances, the winger has continued to improve, having scored 7 goals and offered 2 assists with 3.4 dribbles per game in just 14 total Budesliga appearances so far this term. Impressively, he has shot accuracy this season sits at a very impressive 64%. Son is a dynamic forward, possessing speed, precise dribbling, and excellent movement. Not only would he significantly boost Liverpool’s profile in South Korea, but Heung-Min Son would add real attacking intent to the club’s attack. Considering his young age, skill, and potential marketing benefits, Son’s signing would be a masterstroke for the club.

Yoichiro Kakitani, Japan, Attacking Midfielder, Cerezo Osaka, 24 (£1-2m)

Though the Japanese J-League receives little notice in the West, several players have flourished since moving to Europe. The J-League’s most exciting current prospect is Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka (Shinji Kagawa’s former club), having scored 21 goals (none of which were penalties) in 34 league appearances this season from the attacking midfield position. In comparison, this ranks Kakitani as the third highest scorer in the league, while no other midfielder cracks the top twelve. According to his coach, Culpi, furthermore “right from the beginning it was evident that he (Shinji Kagawa) was going to be an important player. On top of his terrific energy and skills, he also had a fantastic attitude and that is why he has been so successful. With Yoichiro it has taken a little longer, but he is now on the right path. If he continues scoring the goals and making the assists that he is, he can reach the same level.”

In order to analyze Kakitani further, I turned to Trevor of Cerezo Osaka Blogspot, a diehard Cerezo fan, and an avid watcher of the J-League. He noted:

Kakitani tends to play off the last defender or look for space around the box rather than actively search for the ball or make runs down the channels. Our manager, who just left, criticized him for his tendency to disappear for large periods in games. That being said his technique is good enough to succeed in Europe and he often relies on his sublime first touch to get out of trouble or stay ahead of the defender. In a number of games the season gone he hasn’t contributed for the whole game but has been decisive with his goals and passing.Cerezo Osaka Blogspot

Though Kakitani may be seen as a more risky acquisition for Liverpool than the other players on this list, he would be available for a considerably small fee. He has demonstrated prolific success in the J-League and, as somewhat of a late bloomer, he could well explode onto the European scene sooner rather than later.

Atsuto Uchida, Japan, Right Back, Schalke 04, 25 (£4-7m)

Glen Johnson’s recent slump in form has shown Liverpool fans that the club desperately needs competition at its right back slot. Schalke’s Atsuto Uchida could provide this competition relatively cheaply, and has the potential to ultimately claim the Reds’ starting right back position as his own. Uchida has performed admirably in his four seasons at the German club, offering attacking verve down and defensive pressure down Schalke’s right wing. Offensively, the Japanese international has created 11 chances, yielding 2 assists so far this season, and his ability on the ground, furthermore, is demonstrated by his 17 out of 21 successful take-ons. With an average of 6 defensive actions per game (compared to Glen Johnson’s 5 or Dani Alves’ 4), moreover, it is clear that Uchida provides more than speed and crossing ability from the right back position. Overall, the signing of Atsuto Uchida would add depth and experience at a reasonable price to a relatively small Liverpool squad, and would open up the Japanese football market to the Merseyside club.

Omar Abdulrahman, United Arab Emirates, Left Attacking Midfielder/Winger, Al-Ain FC, 22 (£2-5m)

A poofy-haired youngster from the United Arab Emirates named Omar Abdulrahman,or “Amoory” for short, burst onto the footballing scene at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Following a series of dominant performances against Uruguay (he swapped shirts with Luis Suarez after the game) and Great Britain (he provided an assist and general attacking incision in both matches) Amoory completed a trial with Manchester City in August, 2012. Al-Ain’s manager Cosmin Olaroiu later revealed that City had offered him a four-year deal following his trial, yet he had to reject the offer due to issues in receiving a work permit. For his efforts in 2012, Abdulrahman was ranked #1 in ESPN FC’sTop Ten Asian Players of 2012. As recently as last summer, moreover, it is rumored that Arsenal made an approach for the UAE international. Amoory’s performances this year have warranted this interest, as he has already supplied 1 goal and 11 assists in 10 games for Al-Ain, compared to 8 goals and 16 assists in his 31 appearances last term. In international competitions this year, furthermore, he has scored 3 goals and provided 10 assists in 15 appearances. He is a quick and incisive player with an excellent eye for a pass and skill to beat a man with a dribble in tight quarters, not unlike our own Philippe Coutinho. Though Abdulrahman may be young and hails from a country not typically associated with producing football players, his signing would be a shrewd move for a Liverpool club which aims to recruit young players and would increase the Reds’ profile throughout the Middle East.

Importing Talent, Exporting a Brand:  Five Players Who Could Open Asian Markets to Liverpool – by Alex Beck



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About The Author

Alex Beck

is an American student at the University of Wisconsin, studying political science and history. Though he has only followed Liverpool since the 2011 season, he has become a die-hard fan of the Reds. He has a penchant for scouting reports, and loves all things Kolo Toure. He hopes to one day have hair as good as Jordan Henderson.

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