BANGKOK - Dreams of success in England's Premier League have turned sour for many of Asia's top soccer players.
Lured by the riches and glamour of the Premier League, players from China, South Korea, Thailand and Iran have found their hopes buried by the rigours and red tape of the English top flight.
China's Sun Jihai is now with Championship (second division) side Sheffield United after a miserable year warming Manchester City's bench.
His compatriot Dong Fangzhuo has been offloaded by Manchester United after spending two years on loan to Belgian second division side Royal Antwerp and much of the following two years either in the United reserves or injured.
Dong, 23, was philosophical about the experience. "I'm not frustrated," he said. "Over the years many skilful players have left the club. It was a rare opportunity for any player to play for United, so I am very proud."
South Koreans have had the most success so far in England, although Seol Ky-hyeon is out of favour at Fulham and defender Lee Young-pyo was transferred to Germany's Borussia Dortmund after failing to impress Tottenham manager Juande Ramos.
Kim Do-heon, however, is a fixture with promoted West Bromwich Albion but injury has dashed midfielder Park Ji-sung's hopes of a regular starting place at Manchester United.
Park's dream of becoming the first Asian to play in a Champions League final was shattered when manager Alex Ferguson failed to include him in the squad for the match against Chelsea in Moscow in May.
The future is bleak for Suree Sukha, Teerasil Dangda and Kiatprawut Saiwaeo, the barely-known trio of Thais signed by Manchester City following the club's takeover by ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The signings, made a week before Thailand's first post-coup election, were widely dismissed as a political ploy by the exiled Thaksin to exploit Thais' love of English soccer and win votes for a party run by his supporters.
The controversial billionaire even got the players' names wrong when he announced the signings.
All three were denied work permits and packed off on loan to clubs elsewhere in Europe but after poor performances they are back home with their part-time clubs, still on the City payroll.
Gavin Hamilton, editor of World Soccer magazine, believes Asian players are capable of making it in Europe but are hampered by the poor reputation of their national teams and players' difficulties adjusting to life on and off the field.
However, he said Japan's Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic and Manchester United's Park were helping to break the stereotype of the failing Asian player.
"They are making a breakthrough but it doesn't help when Asian teams get hammered at World Cups," Hamilton told Reuters.
"It's the only time the rest of the world sees Asian football. Commercially, clubs are not making much money from Asian players and there are work permit problems. That's how they're being judged."
One such case is Iraqi playmaker Nashat Akram, who had caught the eye of several Premier League and Spanish clubs but was denied a work permit to join Manchester City.
The rejection of his appeal, based on Iraq's low world ranking, sparked criticism of the British government at home and abroad for "sending out the wrong messages".
"The deal was done but they sent me back," said Akram, whose face was on prematurely-printed posters across war-torn Iraq carrying the message: "The dream came true because of our determination and zeal".
"I know I'm good enough. I just want to show people that Iraqi footballers can make it. The rules are so difficult in England," he told Reuters.
Oman goalkeeper Al al-Habsi has broken through to the Bolton Wanderers first team and believes the success of Asians is being stifled by Britain's stringent laws.
"I don't know why there are so few Asians compared with Africans," he said. "But the work permit is so hard to get. I think they should make it a bit easier because there are a lot of good Asian players."