Firstly, the favourite to probably land the honour is Shunsuke Nakamura of Reggina and Italy. He edges out both Ali Karimi and AlaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢a Hubail, simply, based upon the fact that he picked up the Player of the Tournament during the Asian Cup. The major confederations tend to give the Player of the Year to the player who shone most during the major national team tournament in the years that those tournaments are staged. Although, Karimi may question NakamuraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s appointment as the tournamentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best player during the summer, the fact remains that the Japanese midfielder was given the honour. How much he deserved it is open to debate. Nevertheless, Nakamura has been a success story during his spell in Italy. He has probably done more than any other Japanese player to establish himself abroad, more so than Hidetoshi Nakata, who many argue has remained in Europe mainly as a commercial asset. Nakamura continues to put in consistent performances, as he helps keep Reggina comfortably within the top division of Italian football.
Ali Karimi has probably just experienced the best year of his footballing career, as he led Al Ahli to the domestic title in the United Arab Emirates. Karimi has almost single-handedly altered his clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fortunes from also-rans to title challengers. In the coming season, he will lead Al Ahli, as they seek to get the UAEÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second Asian ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League title of the last three years. Karimi had also excelled during the summer as he led Iran to third place during the Asian Cup. His dribbling and technique are unrivalled on the Asian continent. The only question that remains with the midfield dynamo is whether he has what is takes to cut it in Europe. So far, Karimi has refused to test his quality on the European front. However, during the last few months of the year, Karimi has burnt out a little, and his form has dropped drastically. It is unlikely that this will hinder his chances of landing the Player of the Year.
Finally, the outsider, Bahrain talisman AlaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢a Hubail will probably feel lucky if he is to land the title. Hubail has burst onto the Asian scene during the last few months, and his goals led Bahrain to 4th place during the Asian Cup, as well as to the second stage of the Asian World Cup Qualifiers, where he could run into both Nakamura and Karimi, yet again. Although Hubail has been a revelation in 2004, he has yet to establish himself as a star at club level in Asia, and that fact could count against him, once the results are read out on December 8, a problem that does not hinder the other two candidates.
All in all, both Nakamura and Karimi can be equally disappointed if they fail to land the trophy, as both can lay fair claim to it with their performances in 2004. No one would be able to have any qualms with either, if they were to be named the Asian Player of the Year. HubailÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time, though, may not have yet come. This may be one or two years too early for the Bahraini striker, who would probably be better served being named the revelation of 2004.