As we welcome 2023, the-AFC.com profiles 11 Asian players who are set for a big year as they look to stamp their mark on the game and continue their progress into key players for their respective clubs and national teams.
Hareb Abdullah – UAE and Shabab Al Ahli
Having enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2022, introducing the continent to his explosive pace across the AFC Champions League™ group stage and the AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar™, 2023 promises to be the year Hareb Abdullah truly establishes himself as a bonafide UAE and Shabab Al Ahli star.
With his teen years behind him, Abdullah enters his 20s as part of a much-changed UAE side that starts 2023 with the challenge of competing in the Gulf Cup without key names such as Ali Mabkhout and Ismael Matar as head coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena looks to build the next generation that will represent the nation in the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™.
Jeong Sang-bin – Korea Republic and Grasshoppers
Five years after making an impact for Korea Republic in the AFC U16 Championship Malaysia 2018, Jeong Sang-bin is taking strides towards fulfilling his potential as one of the nation’s brightest young talents, and 2023 could finally be the year that sees him break out in Europe.
The former Suwon Samsung Bluewings starlet was recruited by Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 2022 to join his compatriot Hwang Hee-chan and was immediately sent on loan to Swiss side Grasshoppers, but an ankle injury hampered his start to life in Europe, limiting him to two league appearances all season, but as the 20-year-old recovers, the new year could see him demonstrate exactly what the English Premier League side saw in him.
Kwon Hyeok-kyu – Korea Republic and Busan iPark
Another K League product finding himself on the radar of European clubs is imposing young midfielder Kwon Hyeok-kyu who currently plies his trade at K League 2 side Busan IPark, but over recent weeks, reports have linked him to Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic.
Primarily a defensive midfielder, combining an ability to intercept balls aerially and on the ground with commendable technique for his 190 cm figure, Kwon can also slot in at the heart of defence when called upon. In 2023, the 21-year-old will also be hopeful of making his international debut as the Taeguk Warriors look to shake things up post their recent FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 campaign.
Zidane Iqbal – Iraq and Manchester United
A name that has come to the forefront for Iraqi football fans in 2022, UK-born Zidane Iqbal is on the cusp of an important year in which he turns 20 in April. The young midfielder made his Iraq debut in an AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar game against Islamic Republic of Iran in January and added a second substitute appearance a few days later against Lebanon.
One of the most promising youngsters at Manchester United, Iqbal was given his debut by coach Ralf Rangnick in the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League but is yet to make his league debut. Becoming the first Iraqi to play in the Premier League will be top of Iqbal’s agenda for 2023.
Allahyar Sayyadmanesh – IR Iran and Hull City
Perhaps a proportionally more established name compared to others in this list, Iran winger Allahyar Sayyadmanesh is still 21 and has plenty to look forward to in 2023. Having initially joined Hull City on loan, the Iranian international made his move permanent in the summer of 2022 but saw his hopes of representing Team Melli in Qatar 2022 dashed by an injury.
A return to fitness, establishing himself at the MKM Stadium and adding to his seven caps ahead of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 will be the key targets for Sayyadmanesh who continues to be the frontrunner as heir to the throne of Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun as Iran’s next talisman.
Musab Al Juwayr – Saudi Arabia and Al Hilal
There are not many challenges as tough for a budding youngster as breaking into the first team at a side as star-studded as Al Hilal SFC, so for 19-year-old Musab Al Juwayr to rack up 19 appearances for the club already, including AFC Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup debuts, is not an ordinary feat.
The versatile midfielder picks up exactly where he left off at the start of 2023, earning a call-up to the Saudi Arabia side competing at the Gulf Cup in Iraq, where head coach Saad Al Shehri is set to lead a squad consisting of those who did not compete at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, offering Al Juwayr to set the tone for an important year.
Yukinari Sugawara – Japan and AZ Alkmaar
In 2023, Yukinari Sugawara will start his fourth season in Dutch football, having joined powerhouse AZ Alkmaar on an initial loan from Nagoya Grampus in 2019, but the Japanese defender is still just 22 years old with a big future ahead of him.
Alternating between the first team and reserve side Jong AZ, Sugawara had already made numerous appearances in the league as well as the UEFA Europa League, and the player who was once the second youngest to ever play in the J-League will be looking to add to his solitary Japan cap in 2023.
Ibrokhimkhalil Yuldoshev – Uzbekistan and Pari NN
Followers of the AFC Champions League will have already recognized Ibrokhimkhalil Yuldoshev as one of the most exciting youngsters in the Asian club football scene following his impressive displays at left-back with Pakhtakor in the 2021 edition.
Since then, the youngster has established himself as a regular for Uzbekistan, garnering 12 caps for his nation and earning a move to Russian Premier League side Pari NN where he continued his development. As he turns 222 in February, Yuldoshev will look to continue his progress at club and international levels, continuing to set himself apart as an outstanding Uzbek talent.
Pratama Arhan – Indonesia and Tokyo Verde
There is no shortage of young talent at left-back in Asian football, and Indonesia’s Pratama Arhan is another example of promising youngsters in this position. With over 20 caps to his name already, having just turned 21 as well as a Young Player of the Tournament at the 2020 AFF Cup, Arhan is undisputedly one of the most exciting talents in Indonesian football at the moment.
The year 2022 brought about a move to J2 League side Tokyo Verde for Arhan who starts 2023 in the middle of another AFF Cup campaign where Indonesia hope to get that elusive title having finished runners-up on six occasions. It would be the perfect start to a year in which Arhan hopes he can continue to fly the Indonesian flag high in Japan and help push Team Garuda forward.
Garang Kuol – Australia and Newcastle United
Garang Kuol only turned 18 in September but is already turning heads despite making his Australian debut last September.
At 18 years and 10 days, he was the youngest Socceroo since former Liverpool and Leeds star Harry Kewell in 1996 and his speedy rise has seen him earn a contract with English Premier League side Newcastle United, where he is definite to progress further.
Dheeraj Singh – India and FC Goa
Six years after he first made his name as India hosted the FIFA U17 World Cup 2017, goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh continues his march towards becoming one of India’s finest goalkeepers of recent times as he enters his 23rd year.
A trial with Scottish side Motherwell has not progressed into a contract, but Dheeraj was again making headlines in 2021 with a series of clean sheets and magnificent saves as FC Goa made their AFC Champions League debut, racking a group-stage best 26 saves. Having been within the India set up several times, the Manipur-born goalkeeper will be eyeing an international debut as one of his key objectives for 2023.