Asia is increasingly being seen and used by English Premier League clubs as a ‘cash cow’. A quick fix to the financial instability of the English game to increase fan base or at least to sell lots of merchandise and to receive a large fee for playing one or two games in the pre-season. How sustainable is this?
Having witnessed first-hand the brand dominance of Chelsea and Liverpool and their entourage of sponsors in Malaysia during 2011, the need for things to change became ever more apparent. By entering such football and specifically English Premier League enthused nations, surely there is a little awareness on the shoulders of club personnel that this way of making money cannot last forever? Furthermore, that what they leave behind is enormous disappointment and empty pockets!
Some clubs are switched on to a certain extent. What I am talking about here is not how to change the world in one swoop, but with a bit of careful planning and attention to detail, football as a whole can affect much more than just its core fanatical following.
On another note, we see everyone’s hero David Beckham selling his soul to the Chinese FA for Eur2 million per year, simply to be a face of football there. Apart from exciting the fans, there seems to be very little consideration of what that sort of money could do for a youth development system or building club outreach and infrastructure. Take a look at FC Barcelona’s performance against AC Milan in this seasons Champions League last 16 and know that this is no coincidence. Decades of investment into youth development and training systems has enabled the Spanish league in general to accelerate and produce some of the world’s best talents all over the pitch.
This year I am delighted to make an example out of the 2012 EPL champions Manchester City, who will be taking their City in the Community Trust team with them to Hong Kong and other destinations. For this minimal extra cost to the club (which incidentally is all being paid for by sponsors anyway) they are able to already start planning a way to use football as a tool to educate communities and get young people active. Of course this takes the City badge with them further into communities, but why shouldn’t they benefit now from increased exposure, if there is a core fundamental belief to do good through the game also. For a club receiving such significant private investment over the past three years, they have only strengthened their social engagement and sense of responsibility throughout the entire organisation.
Talk football in Asia and anyone will talk about Japan, South Korea and especially the size and potential of India and China. Yet we are talking about a continent with 47 countries. All of which have distinct cultures and qualities and many of which escape any forms of football media attention. Who hears of football projects and coaching development in Myanmar for example? Yet here is a nation who over 1,500 years ago created an ancient art form and arguably feeder to the sport of football in Chinlone, so who is to say that with a little support the game can’t develop there?
Asia as a destination both for tourism and sport is growing rapidly. The world already expects enormous shifts of power in the world economy as more and more comes out of this densely populated continent. So it will only be a matter of time before the game changes and the more forward thinking clubs…those working through the communities, developing youth talent, building fans and followers and making a difference through football, will be ahead of the mark when it comes to spotting talent and growing the reach of their club brand.
This is a personal perspective of Daniel Wood from Back in Football. Stay up to date with more from Wood and Back in Football through Twitter @backinfootball.
Image of a wooden woven ball being made as featured in Mystic Ball by Black Rice Productions.