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Busy summer for Asian stars in European market

The summer transfer market will be a busy one for some of the top talent from Asia, with established stars chasing bigger deals and another group of young guns heading to Europe

AP, Monday 13 Jun 2011
Lucas Neill and Harry Kewell
Lucas Neill of Australia kicks the ball as Harry Kewell looks on during an Australian Socceroos training session
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Views: 970

Keisuke Honda and Park Chu-young are looking for new clubs after proving their worth in Europe, while top continental prospects Takashi Usami of Japan and South Korea's Ji Dong-won are set to join some of football's biggest leagues.

Australians Lucas Neill and Harry Kewell are also on the move -- with 32-year-old Kewell considering a move into the A-League amid much speculation in his homeland.

Ji could be the first to complete a deal. The 20-year-old Chunnam Dragons striker is expected to sign with Sunderland and become the eighth South Korean to play in the English Premier League.

"Of course I want to go to Europe," Ji said after scoring for Chunnam at Incheon United on the weekend.

"Talks are progressing to that end." Ji has a buy-out clause in his K-League contract and will cost Sunderland, a mid-ranking team, around $1 million. The amount has been criticised in the Korean media as too low for one of the country's top prospects.

"The club and my agent know the details of the contract well," Ji said. "I don't know so much. It is not a big problem and won't be difficult." After scoring in a friendly against Ghana last week -- his sixth goal in 11 internationals -- the striker is looking forward to returning to England where he spent 10 months in 2007 as a member of Reading's youth team.

"That was just a short time but I learned a lot. The lifestyle is not easy but I want the challenge of playing there again," he said. "I worked hard in the K-league to play in Europe. The opportunity has come more quickly than I thought." Usami also has a buyout clause in his contract with Gamba Osaka and the J-League club is resigned to losing the player.

Usami is only 19 and is expected to join German giant Bayern Munich. There are a growing number of Japanese players impressing in the Bundesliga with Shinji Kagawa at Borussia Dortmund and Atusto Uchida at Schalke already making their marks in the league.

"If I have a chance then I want to move to Europe while I am still young but I can't make any comment (about the move)," Usami told local media last week while on duty with the Japanese national team.

Borussia Dortmund has also been linked with teenage Australian Mustafa Amini, who plays in the A-League for Central Coast Mariners.

At 32, Kewell is still one of Australia's biggest stars and is on the move after leaving Turkish team Galatasaray.

The former Leeds United and Liverpool player has been reportedly linked to newly promoted English Premier League team QPR, but Australian teams are vying with the London club for his signature.

Clubs in Sydney and Melbourne are reportedly trying to lure Kewell, although there are concerns that they will struggle to meet the player's financial demands, reported in the Australian media to be around $2.5 million a year.

"Any successful Socceroo who is interested in returning to Australia, be it Tim Cahill or Harry or whoever, will be of interest to us, and Harry is one of the most successful of all time," Sydney FC chief executive Dick Melton said.

"Whether it's the right time for him remains to be seen but we need to show respect to our fans and Harry in that if he decides to come back to Australia, we'll put our case forward." Kewell's manager, Bernie Mandic, told Monday's Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that some of the speculation about Kewell's asking price was absurd, adding that any move back to Australia would be on an entirely incentive-based deal.

Like Kewell, Neill has been released by Galatasaray. But the Socceroos captain has ruled out a return to Australia just yet.

The 33-year-old ex-Blackburn Rovers, West Ham and Everton defender wants to stay in Europe to improve his chances of playing at the 2014 World Cup.

"I still feel I've got a lot to offer there. I want to be playing at the highest level possible for me, to reward myself and my country with more opportunities," Neill said.

Asian players who have already made their names in Europe are also ready to transfer to bigger clubs and leagues.

Park, South Korea's captain, is leaving AS Monaco after three seasons. The striker scored 12 goals as the club was relegated from France's top tier, and at the age of 25, has already stated that he will head elsewhere.

"My first choice is to play for a team in the UEFA Champions League," Park said this month. Expected to cost around $9 million (euro6.2 million), he has been linked with moves to Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League.

Liverpool, as well as Manchester City and Arsenal, has also been mentioned as a possible destination for Honda.

One of the stars of the 2010 World Cup for Japan, Honda could leave CSKA Moscow this summer.

Ali Al Habsi is likely to leave Bolton. The Omani goalkeeper was loaned by Bolton to Wigan Athletic last season and helped to keep Wigan in the Premier League. Such were his performances that he was named Wigan's Player of the Season and the club wants to make him a permanent member of the roster. Bolton are asking for $8.1 million.

Japanese defender Yuto Nagatomo is another player about to have a loan deal made permanent. Nagatomo spent the second half of last season with Italian giants Inter from fellow Serie A club Cesena.

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