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Asian adjustment to foreign quota makes sense

On the east coast of Australia, we’ve just finished hosting one of the most successful Asian Cup’s in history, with over 650,000 fans through the gates for the 32 games (at an average of over 20,000 per game), and a sell-out final worthy of the 31 games that preceded it.

We’ve seen the colour and noise the fans of countries like Iran, Iraq, South Korea and China created at each and every game, regardless of how their team was performing on the pitch.

We saw the unexpected rise of countries like the United Arab Emirates, who saw off the might of pre-tournament favourites Japan to make the Semi Final stage and eventually finish in 3rd place in the tournament.

We’ve also been witness to the scintillating performances of rising stars like Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout.

And, along the way, Australia won its first major Men’s trophy in Asia.

But despite all of these positives, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops in the world of Asian football.

With Australia now home to the Asian Champions League and Asian Cup trophies, along with a previous win in the Women’s Asian Cup in 2010, there are sections of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that are none too pleased.

Speculation has always been rife regarding Australia’s place in Asia and as a full member of the AFC. Since our move away from Oceania, and our subsequent affiliation with the AFC in 2006, some countries (particularly in the West Asian region) haven’t been overly happy with our inclusion, most likely due to Australia taking one of the four full spots on offer for Asian countries at the last two World Cup finals.

After that speculation came to the fore again this week, the president of the AFC moved to allay fears in Australia that we would be, essentially, ‘kicked out’ of Asia.

But as the old saying goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.

So, with that in mind, now is the perfect time to further justify our place in — and worth to — the AFC by strengthening our ties to the footballing continent we now call home.

By our count, 29 players from Asian countries have played at least one game in the A-League since its inception in 2005.

Even last weekend, in the Melbourne City vs Western Sydney clash at AAMI Park, two Japanese players made their A-League debuts for the Wanderers. Furthermore, a Singaporean defender, Safuwan Baharudin, was on the bench for City, and when he finally takes the field he will be the first to do so from the small South East Asian nation.

Whichever way you look at it, 29 out of the more than 800 players that have played an A-League game isn’t a high degree of representation, particularly given our place in the AFC.

So, how can we encourage the 10 A-League clubs to invest in players from the Asian continent, rather than chasing potential in the lower leagues of Europe and South America?

Well, one way to do so would be to adjust the foreign player quota rules in the A-League.

A press release from FFA headquarters today detailed that the previously proposed drop from 5 to 4 foreign places for A-League clubs has been pushed back, and is now set to be introduced in the lead up to the 2017/18 A-League season.

There have been many critics of this proposal over the past few months, with many football commentators (including myself) believing it to be a premature move for such a young league.

Even in the last few days, Adelaide United have blamed the uncertainty over this proposed quota reduction as the reason for releasing Portugese winger Fabio Ferreira, who has since signed for the Central Coast Mariners — as they have space in their squad to accommodate him regardless of any such change.

Realistically, at just ten years of age, the A-League isn’t in a position to be able to drop from 5 to 4 foreign places for each team. Foreign players, more often than not, provide the class and X-factor that a team needs to reach the heights of a Premiership or Championship win. Just look at the impact of Besart Berisha and Thomas Broich at Brisbane, and Shinji Ono at Western Sydney.

So, rather than reducing the current quota from 5 to 4, why not adjust the quota to a 4+1 structure, whereby each team can have up to four foreigners from any country outside of Australia (or New Zealand, in the case of the Wellington Phoenix), and one foreign spot for a player from another AFC member nation?

That kind of adjustment is more than achievable without hurting the quality of the league. As a result, the A-League might even discover the next Omar Abdulrahman or Shinji Ono!

If this ‘Asian adjustment’ were made, not only would the A-League then fall closer to being in line with the requirements of the Asian Champions League (currently enforcing a 3+1 foreign quota rule), but Australia will also be able to strengthen ties with some of the countries that, perhaps, don’t see the advantage in having Australia as a member nation of Asia.

With the FFA delaying their proposed reduction until the 2017/18 season, the powers that be now have over a year to make the logical decision.

It’s a win-win scenario for the FFA and the AFC, and one that, at this point, makes too much sense not to implement.

About the author

avatarJustin is a passionate football fan, and the Editor-in-chief of Ultimate A-League.

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