When it comes to the world of football, most of the attention is paid to Europe and South America. Southeast Asia can be overlooked by the global media, but they’re really missing out on some great football when doing so. Through the years, the region has produced some of the greatest players on a global scale, though some don’t get their time to shine until the World Cup every four years.
It may be hard to narrow down the best of the best when it comes to Southeast Asia’s greatest players since there are so many countries, but there are a few that truly stand out. Here are our picks for the top five, with some honorable mentions to make sure that everybody gets the recognition they deserve.
5. Bambang Pamungkas
Known to many as Bepe, Bambang Pamungkas hails from Semarang, Indonesia and played his youth football in the country for over a decade prior to making his senior career debut as a member of Persija Jakarta. In 126 appearances with the club, Bepe netted 80 goals and was sent on loan for a brief period to EHC Norad.
Bepe continued to be a dominant force when he played for two years with Selangor FA before returning to Persija Jakarta for another six years, this time scoring 73 goals in 149 appearances. After one year with Pelita Bandung Raya, Bepe finished his career with a third stint in Jakarta, finishing his senior career with 222 goals and 37 international goals.
4. Neil Etheridge
We now turn our attention to the Philippines, the home of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. He made history by becoming the first-ever player from the Philippines to make it to the English Premier League as he played his youth career with both Chelsea and Fulham. He’d make his senior debut in 2008 with the latter club, though he didn’t see on-field action in the EPL.
Instead, Etheridge was sent on loan to several clubs between 2008 and 2014, and then finally settled down with Walsall in 2015. He then joined Cardiff City and eventually Birmingham City, making dozens of appearances with both clubs.
3. Dang Van Lam
Etheridge isn’t the only goalkeeper on the list as Dang Van Lam of Vietnam has also enjoyed a long professional career and started minding the net for his home country starting in 2015. Dang was actually born in Moscow, Russia, but his father hails from Vietnam while his mother is Russian.
Instead of following in his parents’ footsteps and getting into performance arts, Dang went the football route and it ended up paying off big time. He started his senior career with Hoang Anh Gia Lai before moving to several other clubs, most notably with Hai Phone from 2015 to 2019 and Muangthong United from 2019 to 2021.
2. Thanawat Suengchitthawon
Thanawat Suengchitthawon was born in Suphan Buri and spent his first several years in Thailand before joining the Nancy in France as part of the club’s youth program. Thanawat then began his senior career with Nancy II, making 16 appearances with the club and netting one goal as a midfielder.
In 2020, Thanawat made headlines when he became the first Thai player to join the English Premier League as he was transferred to Leicester City. Thanawat proved to be a major player with the Premier League 2 team and was moved to the senior squad beginning in 2021. Thanawat also represents Thailand on the international circuit instead of France.
1. Paulino Alcantara
You have to go way back in time to find the greatest Southeast Asian football player of all time. His name was Paulino Alcantara, who was born in Concepcion, Philippines in 1896 and lived to be 67 before his death in 1964. Alcantara moved to Barcelona as a child and came into the professional ranks with Barca back in 1912.
Alcantara made 40 appearances for the club, scoring 40 goals during that time. In 1916, he would shift clubs to Bohemian for two years, but returned for nearly another decade with Barcelona. This time around, he had 130 appearances and 102 goals, causing many to consider him the greatest Southeast Asian player ever.