As the clock ticked over into 2014 it was not just a time of reflection on the year that was, but also a chance to look forward to what lay ahead and make your wishes for 2014. My wish, football wise anyway, is that 2014 is the year that Australia finally embraces Asian football.
Since joining the AFC in 2006 Australians haven’t so much embraced Asian football as tolerated it. Asian football has been like the unpopular kid from school living next door that Australia has humoured and pretended to like, but deep down they’d rather be somewhere else, hanging with the cool kids on the other side of town.
But that unpopular kid next door is Australia’s business partner for life and it is he who will put us on the path to success in the future. The sooner that realisation is made, and the sooner we start respecting, appreciating and working with the kid next door the better it will be for everyone.
Everyone has a role to play – FFA, media, clubs and fans – in developing a new Domino99 Pkv attitude of respect and appreciation for Asian football.
The FFA can start but doing what almost every other nation in Asia has done – introducing the 3+1 system for foreign players in the A-League. Or if they want to remain at 5 foreign players opt for 4+1. Introducing a +1 system will force clubs to look to Asia if they want to fulfil their full quota of foreign players.
It will mean clubs will need to develop scouting networks in Asia, sophisticated ones at that to ensure that get the best talent available. The fact that in a league of close to 250 players there are only 3 players (Ali Abbas, Ryo Nagai and Shinji Ono) from Asia is a sad indictment on the league and how we value Asian football. In fact, with Nagai’s loan spell ending this past week that number is now just two. Ono will depart at the end of this season to return to Japan and Abbas is now a naturalised Australian citizen.
By way of comparison, there are close to 30, mostly Japanese and Korean, in the Thai Premier League (TPL). Admittedly the TPL does have 20 teams as opposed to 10 in the A-League. Despite that, there are still significantly more players from AFC nations in the TPL than there are in the A-League.
Just this past off-season Daiki Iwamasa (284 games for Kashima Antlers), Robert Cullen (naturalised Japanese player with 100+ games experience for Jubilo Iwata and 60+ games for VVV Venlo) and Teruyuki Moniwa (172 games for FC Tokyo and 112 for Cerezo Osaka) have moved to the Thai Premier League.
Players of genuine quality and yet I don’t think it would be a stretch to say there was zero interest in signing any of them, or players of similar quality, to the A-League. In Japan this year a new rule has been introduced allowing all clubs to sign an extra foreign player, provided that player is from a SE Asian nation. It is part of the J.League’s push into SE Asia.
Last year the league ‘gave away’ its TV rights to four SE Asian nations – Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. In return the local broadcasters agreed to give commercial slots and sponsorship opportunities to Japanese companies, who pay a fee to the J.League.
Introducing 3+1 means there are greater opportunities for clubs to grow in the region. Would a club be so bold as to go after one of the continents best strikers, Thailand’s Teerasil Dangda? Or target one of the biggest stars in Indonesia, Irfan Bachdim (one of the players to recently trial at J.League club Ventforet Kofu), a man who has 4.2m twitter followers! Although with Bachdim they may have been beaten to the punch, with reports suggesting J.League side Ventforet Kofu will sign up the talented young striker.
Perhaps instead of bemoaning the fact his players have been called up to the Olyroos for a “meaningless” tournament, Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond should have a scout there looking for the best new talent in Asia. We all know how unlikely that is, however.
The media also have their part of play. There is a little bit of chicken and egg here. What comes first? Increased fan interest, which forces increased media interest, or increased media coverage to drive increased fan interest?
In my opinion it has to be the latter. There is a commercial interest in FOX SPORTS promoting Asian football. They own the rights to the AFC Champions League, they own the rights to the AFC Asian Cup and they own the rights to the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the AFC region. It is in there interest for the popularity of Asian football to increase, as it will increase the viewer base for the above-mentioned competitions.
That, sadly, has not been the case, however. FOX SPORTS’ coverage has been sporadic at best. It rarely shows an AFC Champions League game that doesn’t involve an A-League team. It rarely shows a FIFA World Cup Qualifier that doesn’t involve Australia.