Europe ready for Asian influx, says Kwok
ROBIN PARKE in Paris
As transfer fever sweeps the end of the World Cup, former Hong Kong national coach Kwok Ka-ming is certain an Asian invasion will see up to a dozen players in European leagues next season.
Kwok made his statement as Tottenham Hotspur were holding more talks with exciting Iranian midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia, the 20-year-old Asian Young Player of the Year whose services are considered to be worth $2.6 million.
That is the fee China national league winners Dalian were prepared to pay for Mahdavikia but he turned them down and now possible stardom in England looms.
'I have always thought it was only a matter of time before our best Asian players made a major impact in Europe and, though results from Asian teams in this World Cup disappointed, there were good individual performances,' said Kwok.
Japan returned home pointless but exciting midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata, the 21-year-old playmaker from Bellmare Hiratsuka, has already agreed terms with new Serie A side Perugia - although Aston Villa have made a late move for him.
Said Kwok: 'Nakata was a natural target. He has so much ability and is a tough, sturdy player who should adapt well in Europe.
'The obvious targets are Korean, Japanese and Iranian players.' Although South Korea flopped, barring a final first-phase 1-1 draw with Belgium, their strapping striker Choi Yung-soo is already earmarked for a German Bundesliga club after he has completed his military service. South Korea are already represented in Europe by Seo Jung-won, who plays with French First Division side Strasbourg.
Said Kwok: 'Because the next World Cup is going to be played in Asia a lot more attention is going to be directed there. That will put more players under the spotlight and more will go.
'It is a natural development because clubs are being forced to pay huge prices for established players and most other areas in the world have already been tapped.' The World Cup attracts agents and deal-makers like bees around honey and the latest big-name player to be linked to a major move is Argentina's brilliant striker, Gabriel Batistuta.
He has been with Fiorentina for nine years but has hinted that he wants away and Manchester United are reported ready to bid GBP14 million for him.
French striker Thierry Henry will almost certainly play with Arsenal next season following the confirmation of an offer by Arsene Wenger to his old club, Monaco.
Said Henry, on the eve of the World Cup final: 'I am interested and we have talked but I don't know how far it will go from here.' Chilean central defender Javier Margas, who played in Hong Kong earlier this year, will join West Ham United in the English Premier League.
Despite the excellence of their performances, no offers have been reported for goalkeepers Fabien Barthez of France and the vastly influential Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay.
Barthez, who is with Monaco, has impressed throughout the tournament and, with Chilavert, displaced such established names as Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman in FIFA's World Cup All-Star team.