A-League All Stars are the key to Asian football

Paul Williams Columnist

By , Paul Williams is a Roar Expert

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    Whether we like it or not, football runs fourth in Australia when it comes to professional sports – behind AFL, rugby league and cricket. The battle for relevancy is real.

    Just look at how hard the A-League has to battle just to get column inches and TV time, or how the Socceroos’ must-win playoff against Honduras may not sell out.

    This isn’t Europe or South America, where the game just sells itself. It needs more.

    Our local on-field product is good – better than good in some cases – but in Australia, it seems that just isn’t enough.

    The fact is gimmicks work here. Just look at what happens every time a genuine marquee is signed – it’s a gimmick, but it works.

    The second part of the equation is our blatant disregard for anything that happens north of the Timor Sea. I’m the first to criticise our attitude towards Asia, and our view of it being a money pit to be exploited, but it’s an untapped goldmine that we are ignoring.

    Just look at how well the AFL has positioned itself with its now-annual match in Shanghai, turning the match into one giant trade mission and turning that into cold, hard cash – both from companies in China and from governments here. It’s no coincidence Malcolm Turnbull took the visiting Chinese premier to an AFL match earlier this year.

    All Star matches in Asia fit the culture perfectly. In the early years of the J.League they were an annual affair, and more recently involved matches between the J.League and K-League. It’s the case too in Southeast Asia, where visiting teams from Europe often face off against different All Stars teams.

    Create an annual or biannual tournament – played at the end of the A-League season, falling then almost in the middle of leagues on this side of Asia – involving the A-League, Chinese Super League, J.League, and Southeast Asian All Stars.

    Play three games across the week against each of the other teams and work with the respective leagues to develop the tournament into something worthwhile, involve a big marketing partner and have a sponsor put up prize money.

    But importantly, make it an event people want to watch, and one they want to attend.

    With the booming interest in the CSL, imagine seeing the likes of Oscar, Hulk, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Alexandre Pato and co. all on one team against the likes of Besart Berisha, Milos Ninkovic and Diego Castro. It’s salivating to think about.

    Rotate the hosting between the four regions – meaning a nation would only host it once every four to eight years, ensuring it doesn’t become repetitious – and turn it into a trade mission to which governments attach themselves.

    This is where football has a natural advantage over every other sport and it’s one we need to exploit.

    Just as importantly, it would be an opportunity for A-League clubs to broaden their own reach into Asia, building relationships with potential sponsors, sister clubs and expanding scouting networks. With the plus-one rule soon to come into effect, improving these connections is more important than ever.

    The AFC Champions League is a great competition, but sadly one Australians haven’t embraced in our 11 years of participation. This can be an entry point to Asian football for Aussie fans, showcasing the very best of football in our region, and becoming a showpiece event – something we are sorely lacking.

    It might be gimmicky, but so what? If football is ever going to challenge the other sports, we need to be brave and think outside the box.

    So bring back the All Stars!

    Paul Williams
    Paul Williams

    Paul Williams is an Adelaide-based football writer. Specialising in Asian football, he writes about the beautiful game for a host of publications including SBS The World Game, FourFourTwo Singapore and Al Jazeera, and is a regular guest on the Daily Football Show. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulWilliams_85.