Living the Asian dream

A packed fixture list as a result of Asian Champions League qualification should be a cause for celebration, not frustration.

A decade ago the idea of Australian clubs playing in Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul in Asia’s most prestigious club competition was a distant and elusive dream.

Isolated in Oceania and struggling in a semi-professional environment, Australian clubs craved the international exposure and higher competition in FIFA-s most populous confederation.

Spin the clock forward to 2007 and the dream turned into an instant reality when Sydney FC and Adelaide United became our inaugural entrants in the AFC Asian Champions League.

In just the second season, Adelaide United went all the way to the final against the J-League powerhouse Gamba Osaka.

This season Brisbane Roar will become the sixth Australian club to qualify for the ACL and will experience the football, cultural and logistical challenge.

Given that historical background, it’s more than a little surprising to read that participation in the 2012 AFC Champions League being questioned.

The so-called “horror” draw for the Mariners is an unfortunate fact of life when the Hyundai A-League and ACL have overlapping seasons. Clubs in Japan, South Korea and China have been dealing with this for years and now it’s happening to our clubs.

Playing three games in a week is the price of success. Clubs must deal with not only the rigours of playing, but also the rigours of travel. The better the team, the heavier the burden. Look how Barcelona and Manchester United cram around 60 matches into 10 months every year.

With the increase in squad size (30 players) for clubs participating in the ACL, not only can a club have seven more players on their list, but contract regulations for the ACL allow players to be brought in specifically for the extra exertions teams must undergo to perform in this prestigious competition.

While the Mariners may question the scheduling of matches, it-s worth noting that FFA made strong representations to the Asian Football Confederation on behalf of all three Australian clubs in this year-s ACL.

We pride ourselves on growing and developing as a full-time, professional league. To be taken seriously, players will at times, as they do in leagues around the world, have to be managed through intense periods of domestic and international competition.

In the case presented by Central Coast Mariners last weekend, a change of fixture is made impossible not only by the need for fairness to each other club involved (Wellington and Perth), but also to venue availability (Westpac Stadium in Wellington unavailable) and pre-planning of travel options (travel from China to Perth shorter than direct return to Central Coast, allowing two full days to prepare following travel).

In addition, we explored potential rescheduling of Hyundai A-League games with opponents and stadium managers. In the end, there was no flexibility, given the multitude of stakeholders in both the ACL and Hyundai A-League – opponents, TV broadcasters, sponsors, stadiums and fans.

FFA meticulously plans every season-s fixture list and seeks input from every club in order to finalise the best possible outcomes equitably and without prejudice. This season-s fixtures were roundly praised by all from fans to media and the clubs themselves.

FFA encourages clubs, coaches, players and fans should to embrace the opportunity to compete in the ACL, playing football at the highest international level that Asia has on offer.

Rather than dwell upon the inconveniences imposed by distance and overlapping fixtures, we should rejoice that we are part of a club competition that encompasses half the world-s population and the fastest growing football region on the planet.

The recent transfer of Nicolas Anekla to Shanghai Shenhua should open our eyes to where Asian football and ACL is heading. We want to be part of the evolution and I-m sure every Hyundai A-League wants to be part of it, too.