The Asian influence in LaLiga

While interest in LaLiga grows across Asia, some of the continent’s most high-profile talents are already making a lasting impression on Spanish football.

The new partnership between LaLiga and M88 will continue promoting Spanish football in Asia for the next four seasons, continuing a recent trend of growth that has seen LaLiga become one of the continent’s most popular sporting competitions.

Part of this success is thanks to the many Asian players who have performed at the highest level in the top two divisions of the Spanish footballing pyramid.

These players have been testing themselves in the best league in the world and have stood out, providing unforgettable moments for their teams. In the 2020/21 season, there are seven Asian players across Spain’s top two tiers. Below we take a detailed look at four of them who have been able to make their mark.

The trendsetter: Takashi Inui (Eibar)

Of the Asian players currently in LaLiga, Takashi Inui was the first to arrive. In 2015, the opportunity to join Eibar came up and the Japan international took it, moving from Eintracht Frankfurt to a small club from northern Spain to fulfil his dream of playing in LaLiga Santander.

He immediately lit up the competition during a three-year spell with Eibar and that earned him a move to Real Betis in 2018. After half a season wearing green and white and another half a season on loan at Alavés, Inui returned to Eibar and is once again one of coach José Luis Mendilibar’s favourite players. He’s also now a mentor for his international teammate Yoshinori Muto, with Eibar becoming the first club to have two Japanese players in the same squad in LaLiga Santander history.

There have been several great Inui moments, such as his performance at the Camp Nou on the final day of the 2016/17 season when he put Eibar 2-0 up against Barcelona. Although the Catalan side came back to win 4-2, that’s a moment that Eibar fans still remember.

The star signing: Wu Lei (Espanyol de Barcelona)

Wu Lei’s transfer to RCD Espanyol de Barcelona in January of 2019 was absolutely huge in his native China. Having scored 102 goals in the Chinese Super League for Shanghai SIPG, he was the second top scorer in that league’s history and his arrival at the Catalan club helped them go on and qualify for Europe at the end of the 2018/19 season. Wu Lei scored in the 2-0 win over Real Sociedad that secured the club’s return to European competition after a 12-year absence.

There have been other memorable Wu Lei moments too, none more thrilling than his 88th minute equaliser in a home derby against Barcelona at the start of 2020. That goal earned Espanyol de Barcelona a 2-2 draw against their biggest rivals.

Wu Lei remains a focal point in his team’s attack. Given his huge profile in his home country, Espanyol de Barcelona have become one of the most followed clubs in China. Thanks to the 29-year-old’s contributions, Espanyol de Barcelona have charged up the table in LaLiga SmartBank and are currently league leaders.

The seasoned pro: Shinji Okazaki (Huesca)

With Shinji Okazaki to turn 35 years of age in 2021, the Japanese striker is a seasoned pro who has already enjoyed success in England and in Germany and with his national team. Before retiring, he wanted to play in Spain and this led him to join Huesca in the summer of 2019.

In his first Spanish season, Okazaki used his experience to help Huesca win LaLiga SmartBank and promotion into Spain’s top tier. With his 12 goals, Okazaki was the team’s top scorer during that promotion season. Now he is in the top division of Spanish football and opened his LaLiga Santander account with a beautiful goal in a 3-3 draw against Granada. Spotting the opposition goalkeeper off his line, the Japanese forward first-time curled the ball over everyone and into the net from distance to announce his arrival in Spain’s top division.

The future: Takefusa Kubo (Getafe)

Takefusa Kubo is regarded as one of the brightest stars of Asian football. After spending time in Barcelona’s La Masia academy as a youngster, the winger returned to his home country of Japan to take his first steps in senior football with FC Tokyo and Yokohama F. Marinos, before signing for Real Madrid in 2019.

After a dazzling pre-season for Zinedine Zidane’s side, several LaLiga Santander teams wanted to sign him on loan and RCD Mallorca won that race. Kubo played with the islanders in 2019/20 and was one of their best players as they battled in the top fight.

This season, the 19-year-old has gone out on loan again. For the first half of 2020/21, he was at Villarreal and made his debut in UEFA competition as he helped the Yellow Submarine progress from the group stages. Now, he’ll spend the second half of the campaign on loan at southern Madrid side Getafe, where he has immediately impressed coach José Bordalás.

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LaLiga’s week review

What has been going on in LaLiga this past week? Here’s all you need to know, from yet ANOTHER record for Leo Messi to the long-awaited return of Chimy Avila. 

Record breaking Messi puts on a show  

Barcelona produced a statement victory on Sunday by thrashing Real Sociedad 6-1 at the Reale Arena. Lionel Messi led the way with two goals and an assist too, doing so on the night when he overtook Xavi Hernández to become the Barça player with the most official first-team appearances in club history (768). Talk about marking the occasion in style. The Argentine has now been involved in 23 goals in 2021 (16 goals and 7 assists), more than anyone across Europe’s top five leagues.   

Oblak is the hero for the league leaders 

Atlético de Madrid kept their four-point advantage at the top of the LaLiga Santander table with a hard-fought win 1-0 over Alavés on Sunday, with Luis Suárez scoring the only goal of the game. Jan Oblak was the hero at the end of the game as the Slovenian goalkeeper saved a penalty from Joselu to keep his side in front. 

500 up for Suárez 

That Luis Suárez goal against Alavés was an extra special one as it was his 500th  as a professional footballer. It’s a special achievement that only a few of the very best have ever managed, with the centre-forward’s goals spread out for Atletico (19), Barcelona (198), Liverpool (82), Ajax (111), Groningen (15), Nacional (12) and the Uruguay national team (63).  

Happy 102nd birthday, Valencia CF! 

One of LaLiga’s oldest clubs, Valencia CF celebrated their 102nd birthday last week. Respected across the country and around the world, they received various messages of congratulations on their special day.  

Real Madrid progress to the Champions League quarter-finals 

Zinedine Zidane’s side progressed into the last eight of the Champions League with a 4-1 aggregate win over Atalanta and will now face Liverpool FC in a repeat of the 2018 final – which they won 3-1 in Kiev. If they overcome the English side, Chelsea FC or FC Porto await in the semi-finals. With their title run still in full flow, an exciting month of April awaits Los Blancos

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Luis Suarez: historic 500 goal landmark

Herzogenaurach, Germany, March 22, 2021 — Global sports company PUMA has partnered with Uruguay and Atlético de Madrid star Luis Suárez following the player’s historic 500th goal to donate 500 PUMA footballs to youth football teams based in each of the cities where Luis has played during his career. Each football was gifted with a special note from Luis to inspire the next generation of talent.
“I wanted to give back to the seven teams that have shaped me as football player”, said Luis Suárez. “I wanted to give a boost to the youth teams in need of support and equipment to inspire them to follow their dreams. I wanted to pay tribute to the teams, players and fans who have been a part of my journey; Nacional, Groningen, Ajax, Liverpool, Barcelona, Madrid and Uruguay are all very close to my heart, so this was a special tribute to them and their communities.”
In addition to his donation, Luis has included a special message to each club in a letter he has shared with his social media followers after scoring his 500th goal, thanking each team for their support and the impact each team has had on him both on and off the pitch.
“Breaking the record is an individual honor, but I could never have achieved this feat alone. My teammates and the fans have been there with me every step of the way. Sport unites people and brings communities together. I hope the donation and the letter can bring a smile to people’s faces. Football has given me so much and I would like to give something back to the people”, said Luis Suárez.
To celebrate Luis’s incredible achievement PUMA has produced a special-edition 500 goal FUTURE Z football boot. The next-gen FUTURE Z features a striking design inspired by Luis’s proud Uruguayan heritage. The heel of the boot features a 500 goal motif with Luis’s famous ‘El Pistolero’ logo displayed across the medial side. Targets are showcased across the upper to signify Luis hitting the target 500 times and integrated into the footbed of the boot are the colors of each of the teams Luis has represented throughout his career.

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