If Perth Glory owner Tony Sage is on the money and A-League franchises are on the verge of acquiring somewhere near an extra $80 million, a significant change is looming in Australian football.
The AFC has one of the largest continental competitions in the world: AFC Champions League, AFC Cup. Unfortunately it’s not competing like it.
Firstly, the AFC’s second tier continental competition, the AFC Cup, seems like it is specifically allocated to teams from countries that are lower-ranked – just to give them a go so they don’t feel left out. It’s like a participation medal.
The AFC Champions League on the other hand is like an East versus West battle were it is almost exclusively Japan or South Korea against the UAE, Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Yes, there are some significant flaws at hand for the AFC to sort out if it wants to be more fair, balanced and most importantly, more competitive.
Scrap the East versus West regional divide
Clearly the most powerful region in Asia is the Eastern, however, it feels like the only teams who benefit from this system are the most financially just and powerful clubs in both regions.
The likes of Shanghai SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Al-Ahli, etc.
If a system whereby teams from both regions are to play in the group and knockout phases it would diversify, balance the quality, and adjust the unequal power of some of the teams within it. As for the travel, I suspect the fixtures should be moved to suit the teams and their leagues.
Allocation of places to replicate that of Europe
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the more financially backed, just, and stable a club is the more likely they are to win the AFC Champions League.
The same could be said about the UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores. But, with so many countries, the allocation system within the AFC is extremely flawed.
With roughly a similar number of countries, Asia should be moving towards a European system that is more fair, and, rewards countries that win, or, succeed in a tournament. This would also have to include changing the rankings of clubs to match that of Europe as well.
Making the ‘second tier’ competition an actual second tier competition (AFC Cup)
As mentioned above, Asia has roughly the same number of countries within it as Europe. The population is much larger but the passion for football is still there. This is why rewarding talented football clubs throughout Asia would benefit the continent massively.
This is where the ‘second tier’ competition comes in. The AFC Cup is the unofficial equivalent of the UEFA Europa League in Europe. However, it has been allocated to much smaller teams in countries who are less skilled than those of China, Japan, etc.
This has hampered the potential of the second tier competition as it could benefit the teams in countries that would thrive if challenged by better opposition. Teams that aren’t good enough to qualify to the AFC Champions League are forced to play a dull competition against teams around Southeast Asia, the middle-east, or South Asia.
The best team in Malaysia may not beat the best team in China, but they may beat the sixth best. And that is sure to be more of a success than what is currently being pitched as the ‘second tier’?
Asian football still has a long way to go, but if steered in the right direction, and given better competition, Asia can become much more competitive and balanced.