Stop whinging and start understanding Asian football

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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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
    Mike Tuckerman

    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 has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (65)

    • March 9th 2012 @ 6:52am said | March 9th 2012 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      Could not agree more. Let’s not forget local clubs are losing money everywhere and this is one way to actually make money. Think if every team sells 4 players a year for 500 k each that’s an awesome profit. we pump out so so much young talent that we can continue to re produce

      • March 9th 2012 @ 7:52am
        Titus said | March 9th 2012 @ 7:52am | ! Report

        If you just keep selling off your team, then crowds, Tv, Sponsorship, and media will quickly drop. We need to raise the wages to keep and attract better players and then the transfer value goes up, in which case you may be able to sell 2 players for $1-2 million each.

        • March 20th 2012 @ 11:15pm
          Alex said | March 20th 2012 @ 11:15pm | ! Report

          Of course.. I am from south America, football was perfect there until the big teams dedicated to form and sale players instead of giving us a very beautiful game.

    • March 9th 2012 @ 7:03am
      nearpost said | March 9th 2012 @ 7:03am | ! Report

      Spot on Mike – don’t worry you’ll be writing about football and Asia long after Sir Les has retired:)

      Australians playing in Asia are making great strides for themselves and the game. Indeed the contribution to long-term cultural change and opportunities should not be dismissed

      How will our football connections grow over the next 20 years. Already we’re all familiar with Bunyodkor, Gamba and Pohang, and internationally Qatar, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Japan and Korea Rep hold increasing interest and awareness. Players, Coaches and Media now have increasing, fascinating links.

      Is it really so much worse playing in Asia, less inspiring or worse for your development than playing for Morton (Partaluu), Sassasulo (Valeri) Dortmund bench (Langerak) Rangers bench (MacKay) Utrecht bench (Oar) Gladbach seconds (Leckie) Blackburn (Griffiths) Bolton (Jamieson) the list goes on and on.

      Ask Ahmed Elrich (Fulham) Adrian Leijer (Fulham) Ruben Zadkovich (Derby). Did they really benefit by going to Europe, England no less, and never playing.

      Big Sas is a great example, Mark Milligan another. De Vere, Kennedy, Joel Griffiths, Alex Brosque, the list goes on. Players going to Asia is a great thing. More spots back home for other young boys to come through. It’s up to us to improve those players. And that means more reasons for young boys to play football and earn a good living here or abroad.

      Note Graham Arnolds point this week. The Mariners had 4 players aged 19 playing in the Asia Champions League this week. Will any of these break into the Socceroos by the age of 23? What exerience will they have had by then?

      Would they have got this opportunity if Matt Simon and Royston Griffiths had not gone to Asia?

      What better incentive for our development coaches and players around the country working with players in their teenage years. The options are increasing.

      Better to be in Div 1 in China, Japan, Korea etc than playing outside major Prem leagues in Europe or being on the bench at said club.

      Les has never been a visionary when it comes to football – this is left to Johnny W and Craig F.

      Players leaving for Asia presents many challenges, especially mid-season and for fans’ loyalty but the opportunities presented are just as great, and every club needs the money at the moment. These transfers are sustaining the league, producing more players more often is a great challenge for all of us. We have the talent, players just need more opportunities to play. Increasingly as the Mariners have shown this week they are going to get in. In the A-League, in the ACL.

      Mike, you’ll be writing about football and Asia long after Sir Les has retired.

      • March 9th 2012 @ 11:31am
        phutbol said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        Agree with just about everything you said, except Craig Foster is no visionary. He appears more and more to be an axe-grinding malcontent with no other agenda than the demise of FFA. Does nothing but point out the shortcomings in everything but never puts forward a solution.

        • March 9th 2012 @ 4:32pm
          bart said | March 9th 2012 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

          Agreed, I stopped reading his posts and listening to him as it was just getting boring.

    • March 9th 2012 @ 7:36am
      nordster said | March 9th 2012 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      great blog Mike, your contributions on Asia are a highlight on The Roar. Especially come ACL time.

      And glad u raised SBS as i’ve just deleted my TWG series link after the Palmer interview … was sort of regretting it this week in case they brought Scott McIntyre back as i’d enjoyed his reports on Asian football (not sure if they did). Either way i think my football week is better off without their tedious coverage on domestic matters. And yes its odd that the “multicultural broadcaster” is so far off base on Asia. To think i was saying they should get some ACL games the other day. For shame … 🙂 (I’ll still watch their cycling and docos of course!)

    • March 9th 2012 @ 7:49am
      Titus said | March 9th 2012 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      I would hope we can eventually get over this idea that all footballers need to leave Australia to improve. I think players should be able to earn a good living playing in a league that is considered the equal of all others in Asia.

      I am sure the J-K and even the chinese league are all pretty good, especially technically, but my interest is in the HAL getting better and making the ACL a genuine and respected competition.

      The best players will always head overseas and as Asian football improves, Asia will become more of a destination, but we need to get the HAL to a standard where we can compete with wages of $5-600 000 for the Brosques, McKays, Troisis, Burns, Madaschis, Milligans, Spira’s, Bosnars, Griffith’s etc.

      • March 9th 2012 @ 11:38am
        Roarchild said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        In the meantime while wait for Australian clubs to become wealthier I don’t mid them leaving. We only have 9/10 teams (GCU and Wellington confusing the figure) so just means more opportunities.

        That said it’s sad when Roar lose McKay and Devere and the Mariners lose Simon and Griffiths to Asian clubs and as a result less competitive in the ACL.

    • March 9th 2012 @ 9:29am
      mahony said | March 9th 2012 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      BOOM! Spot on – I especialy like this:

      “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.”

      The FFA get a lot right – and it is good for it to be acknowledged when it does.

      • March 9th 2012 @ 11:00am
        Nathan of Perth said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:00am | ! Report

        Was good to see them putting in that sort of effort.

    • Roar Guru

      March 9th 2012 @ 9:36am
      The Cattery said | March 9th 2012 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      Let’s not start idolising Asian soccer just yet – both the national teams and the main clubs are well, well short of the upper echelon of world soccer.

      The Japanese NT and the top Japanese clubs are gradually getting there, but as for the rest, well, people can’t be seriously arguing that you can form a solid Socceroos XI from players in the various Asian leagues, compared to if we were drawing the XI from the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and the Eredivisie. Even the Russian and Turkish leagues are preferable.

      I would happily concede that some of the Asian leagues and clubs are preferable to playing in parts of Eastern Europe.

      • March 9th 2012 @ 10:40am
        Dinoweb said | March 9th 2012 @ 10:40am | ! Report

        Cat, I do not think anyone is suggesting that a national squad made up of players based in Asia would be superior to one of players from the top divisions of Europe. The issue is that we do not have a squad of players playing at that level any longer. Ten years ago maybe, but the number has dwindled over recent years.

        The argument is, is it better for players to play in the A-League, an Asian club, or a lower level European club?

        Les Murray suggested that it is not in the interest of Australian football for players to move to Asian leagues at the expense of the HAL. Mike argues that is not true and that Les is merely showing a Eurocentric bias against Asian football.

        The case really revolves around the foreign player import rule. In the ACL clubs are only allowed 1 Asian and 3 other foreigners players per team, with Australia counting as an Aisan team. Will playing for a side filled with arguably lesser standard local players help to improve the standard of the Australian players?

        I will readilly admit that I know almost nothing about Asian football. Apart from a handfull of Asian cup games and WC qualifiers, my only experience has been to watch FC Tokyo defeat Roar in Brisbane last Tuesday.

        Certainly I would be happy for any Oz player to play for a club of the standard of Tokyo. Any other opinion I would have though is only based on personal bias.

        I do however have much more expereince at following lower level European competitions, and can see little point in Australians moving to play in those competitions other than a higher wage. Very few Aussies have ever been plucked from the obscurity of a lesser league, with some noteable exceptions like Viduka and Cahill.

        On the whole tough, I agree with Mike. Our future is in Asia. More and more of our players are going there. The standard in most European competitions is not that fantastic. We should start to spend more time looking at and studying the relative merits of the Asian leagues and leave European football where it belongs, an important part of the history of the game, but not the future.

        • Roar Guru

          March 9th 2012 @ 11:10am
          The Cattery said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          Nothing beats playing regularly – I agree with that, and it’s probably better that players are playing regularly either here or in a good Asian Club – Matt McKay may have been better off staying or doing something different, but he couldn’t have predicted how things were going to turn out.

          On the other hand, players sometimes have to start at the bottom and work their way up, or spend years in the reserves, getting loaned out to little clubs, etc, etc – plenty of renowned socceroos have had to endure that sort of career before making the big time.

          So this is the great trade off – do we encourage potential socceroos to jump on that merry-go-round that for most, will lead to disappointment and a ticket back home, but for some they will have a great career and become great socceroos, or do we encourage them to take the easy money in Asia?

          • March 9th 2012 @ 11:17am
            Nathan of Perth said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:17am | ! Report

            ” or do we encourage them to take the easy money in Asia?”

            That can still lead to great career and a spot with the Socceroos.

            No one gets better for being on a bench.

          • March 9th 2012 @ 11:41am
            j binnie said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:41am | ! Report

            Cattery – You strike some good points in your offering. One of the things I noted in Mike’s offering was that although he hints at the game being on the improve in Asia (FC Tokyo proved that OK) he omitted to say that the game in Europe is undergoing great change as well.
            You mention Matt McKay’s sojourn at Rangers.Three or four weeks before he signed for that august body I wrote a warning to Matt saying he should tread carefully, the club was under new ownership,new football manager and had widely reported financial problems.Maybe he saw the letter,maybe not,but I ask Mike,could anyone have seen that same club in administration only 10 or 15 years ago? Of course not.
            So what is causing all this change in world football? The answer is simple,MONEY. Asian clubs are presently sourcing players from Australia and it does appear they are working in a standard close to that of our HAL. But,as in Europe,how long will it be before MONEY will change that,going from our standard to that of countries who presently enjoy higher standards of football than ours. Greece,Portugal,Spain, all intense football countries, are in financial strife and up to now we have seen money men moving to these countries and buying up “big clubs”. How long is it going to be before they realise,if they use the contract system they could actually move 20 players more cheaply than buy a club in one of these cash strapped countries. Food for thought is it not ?????. jb

      • March 9th 2012 @ 11:12am
        Roarchild said | March 9th 2012 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        I think you would be better of in Japan or Korea than in Turkey with one of the lower teams.

        You would at least get paid unlike poor Danny Milosevic.

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