Tuesday, November 28, 2006
So, who’s likely to get it? Perhaps Shunsuke Nakamura, whose exploits at Celtic are known to all? Park Ji-Sung maybe, who followed his impressive spell at PSV with a promising first season at Manchester United? Let’s not forget our own Tim Cahill, whose performances with Everton and Australia even put him on the initial shortlist for FIFA’s World Player of the Year gong.
Well, I’ve got news for you. None of these three even made the shortlist.
The final three nominees are all from western Asia, all locally-based, and unless you were keen to discover the identity of that pesky Kuwaiti No. 17 who caused our defence no end of trouble in Kuwait City, you’re unlikely to have heard of any of them.
This is perhaps a little surprising, when you consider that some recent winners of the award have been European-based (at the time, anyway) players such as Shinji Ono and Mehdi Mahdavikia. What’s going on?
The answer is to be found in the curious criteria for the award, which, among other things, do not take performances for European clubs in domestic competition into account at all. The only ways in which Nakamura, Cahill and Park could have gained brownie points related to the award were by playing for their national teams, or in the Champions’ League or UEFA Cup. They must also be able to attend the AFC’s gala bash in person.
Clearly this is a bit silly, but it’s symptomatic of certain seismic shifts within the AFC that I referred to in an earlier piece. The recent, virtually obligatory T-shirt tours to Asia by the big European clubs have not gone down well with the AFC hierarchy, and, by extension, Asian players who have gained star status in Europe are somewhat on the nose, as the following piece of AFC spin makes quite clear:
An AFC spokeswoman added that the regulations were designed to "fully reflect the AFC’s determination to honour players who have shown a strong commitment to playing in Asia and popularising the game".
"It is to recognise those who have played consistently in Asia," she said.
"At the end of the day, it is not a popularity contest or about who gets written about the most."
This again raises the question of how welcome Australia will really be in Asia, given that all of our top players are competing in European leagues. In a sidelight, Australia is up for the Team of the Year award (and, by rights, should surely get it), but the Player of the Year award tends to attract the most attention.
And for the last few years, the latter award has been a symbol of western Asian pride in the face of the European success of some eastern Asian players.
Our Asian adventure is not going to be an easy ride, either on the pitch or in the boardroom.
And he's seen a few...
Just a thought that's all. This probably won't seem so odd in a few years when Australian clubs have played throughout Asia a bit. Curious that football is pioneering ground that Paul Keating tried and failed to pioneer in the late 90s. And nope, it ain't gonna be an easy swagger.
Just a thought that's all. This probably won't seem so odd in a few years when Australian clubs have played throughout Asia a bit....
Thing is, though, they're not likely to be regular starters for the Socceroos, which will rule them out. The thing about Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE etc. is that just about all their NT players play locally (in Saudi Arabia, as far as I know, they're actually obliged to do so up to a certain age, and for my money that's why they've never really been a force at international level, despite the masses of money that gets poured into their football development, and the number of talented players they've produced).
In many small but significant ways, the AFC subtly favours its western contingent (the Gulf nations, essentially) over Japan, Korea, China, Iran and now Australia as well.
Wikipidea - (always good to cite sources Mike)
The AFC President, Mohammed Bin Hammam, outlined reasons for this decision.
"As well as being a developed football nation, Australia brings a developed economy and this is actually what we want in football. Besides Japan, Korea, China and Saudi Arabia, if Australia joins the benefits are huge, this is what we're after." I am afraid we havent even played a game there, and we are already in conspiracy mode.
Wikipidea - (always good to cite sources Mike)
It's also good to find sources other than Wikipedia. It's a useful tool and all but not necessarily an accurate one.
I always quote sources in the main body of the blog except when it's impossible to do so (as in the previous AFC piece).
(1) The reasons why we joined Asia. There is still a bit of a mystery there as far as I'm concerned, because unless Asia gets an increase in World Cup allocations in the next cycle (which is possible, but unlikely IMO, given the way most Asian teams flopped in Germany), I honsetly cannot see what they get out of our membership. The economic arguments just don't hold water, we're a country of only 20 million, with still limited domestic interest in the game and a fledgling national competition, BUT a national team whose strength threatens the traditional Asian heavyweights at WC time.
Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely over the moon that we're in Asia now, and out of the pathetic cesspool of Oceania. But there's something altogether strange about how easy the transition was - especially after some of the anti-Australian rhetoric directed our way from the likes of Peter Velappan after the last hints of an Oceania-Asia merger.
(2) The "conspiracy" arguments: for one thing, the fact that the AFC scheduling is skewed towards the Gulf nations is not exactly a secret. Having international qualifiers on friendly dates pretty much precludes Euro club players from taking part, and thus gives the Gulf nations (whose players are overwhelmingly locally-based) a significant edge.
By the way, for me this is not religion at work, but petrodollars.
Ah. Long story...
Oceania (the confed) has existed since 1966, but up until the 1986 cycle we always competed as part of Asia. The old-fashioned Oz soccer bureaucrats like Arthur George had a pretty xenophobic attitude towards Asia - and that came back to bite us on the arse when we subsequently (1997, I think) tried to jump ship from Oceania.
...Surely one reason for inclusion in the AFC is to (eventually)pull away one spot from CONCACAF?...
Sadly, no spots will ever be pulled from CONCACAF while Sepp Blatter is in charge of FIFA. That particular confed is his strongest power base.
...I note with mirth that since you have decided to reduce your output, the to and fro of these comment discussions has dropped not one iota. There's no escape is there...
I'm not complaining! ;-)
And as our performance at the World Cup would have been the reason for the award, it all seems a bit strange.
Interestingly, Asia seems to have given Sepp an award for "services to Asian football." Ahhh... huh? I'm a bit confused about this award.
Australia didn't compete in the World Cup as part of Asia. If we did we wouldn't have been seeded in the same group as Japan.