Stop whinging and start understanding Asian football

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Are the senior Socceroos up to the standard of Asian football, let alone the World Cup? AFP

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The Asia trap. It sounds like a bad movie, but it is actually the title of a Les Murray blog posted yesterday, and I would love to know what evidence he used to base his assertion A-League players are unlikely to improve by moving to Asia.

Surely it’s not the form of Alex Brosque – recently a key man for the Socceroos whilst plying his club trade at Japanese side Shimizu S-Pulse.

Or Sasa Ognenovski?

The defender who lifted the 2010 AFC Champions League as captain of South Korean side Seongnam, was named Player of the Tournament and Asian Footballer of the Year.

How about Joel Griffiths? He’s one of the biggest stars in China and recently joined Shanghai Shenhua in a big-money move from Beijing Guoan, despite being continually snubbed by the Socceroos.

All three moved to Asian clubs from the A-League and have improved as a result.

Yet, Mr Murray insists Australian players would be better served going to Europe, despite the fact the likes of Nicky Carle and new Busan I’Park signing Matt McKay struggled to make an impact on said continent.

So how does being released by Crystal Palace or sitting on the bench at Rangers result in a better Australian player?

“The J-League apart, it is probable that all of the leagues in Asia to which these players gravitate are inferior not superior to the A-League,” Murray writes.

Probable? Is it? How much Asian football has Murray actually watched?

Because in my opinion, saying Australian players regress by moving to Asia is a statement strong enough to warrant some evidence.

Last year I completed a Masters degree in Journalism with a 10,000-word research article on “Asian football coverage in the Australian media landscape.”

I’m happy enough (or conceited enough) to admit my project earned a perfect grade, and one of my key points was that the Australian football media is fundamentally Eurocentric.

Time and again my attempts to connect with fellow journalists on matters of Asian football were stonewalled – presumably because said journalists knew nothing about the Asian game and didn’t want to admit as much.

And I’m sorry to say Murray’s casual denigration of Asian leagues smacks of the old soccer/new football divide.

So what if some these leagues actually are inferior, as Murray claims?

If Matt Simon can’t crack the Socceroos squad as a Central Coast player, what difference does it make if he plays for Chunnam Dragons instead?

Should he have followed in the footsteps of his erstwhile Mariners team-mate Pedj Bojic and joined Northampton Town instead, to “improve the credibility and stature of the A-League?”

I just don’t understand the logic.

Seoul-based journalist John Duerden is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice on Asian football, but when even the taciturn Lancastrian starts grumbling about the Australian media’s ignorance of Asian football, it’s a sign our stubborn refusal to engage with Asia has been noted.

Duerden quite rightly points out we never see headlines about “cashed up” Scottish or Belgian clubs signing A-League players.

The blatant double-standard doesn’t say much for Australian participation in the so-called “Asian Century.”

Ironically, on the same day Murray was making sweeping generalisations about Asian football, Football Federation Australia was providing a submission to the Federal Government as part of its “Australia in the Asian Century” White Paper.

It’s a laudable attempt to put Australia’s involvement in Asian football into context, and if nothing else suggests the FFA is more switched on to the potential of Asia than certain employees of our supposed multicultural broadcaster.

It’s time we take the blinkers off and start trying to analyse Asian football.

Because we’re being left behind on a technical level by Asian sides, as our media pines for the nostalgic days of yore when any half-decent Australian player had no other choice but to move to Europe.

Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and was a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008 to July 2014.
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