Sunday, May 26, 2013


European Clubs Eye Bumper Asian Payday

The English football season has ended but there will be little rest for the players as they contemplate adding to their air miles with the traditional pre season tours and as usual Asia will feature heavily as clubs target that crucial market.
After several years of enjoying the Austrian Alps Arsenal it seems have become a fixture of the Asian football calendar in the last two years and this year proves to be their most extensive yet.
The Gunners start their Asian jaunt with a game in Jakarta on 14 July before flying on to Hanoi to become the first English side ever to play a friendly in Vietnam three days later.
They follow up South East Asia by flying on to Japan for a couple of games. in 1968 Arsenal’s first Asian tour took in Japan and this year has extra meaning as they return for the first time in 45 years.
Their first game is against Nagoya Grampus 8 on 22 July; the club Arsene Wenger coached before his move to North London in 1997. On 26 July they play Urawa Reds for the Saitama Cup before returning home.
Chelsea currently hold the Europa League and the European Champions League and as a reward for their endeavours they are being sent on two tours; one post season and the other pre season!
They are presently in the US along with Manchester City but come July they will be following in the footsteps of Arsenal in targeting the screaming hoards of South East Asia.
On 17 July they are in Bangkok to play a Thailand all stars teams, one of those cocktails that try to pull together players from different clubs for a one off game. Four days later they are in Malaysia before arriving in Jakarta for a game on 25 July.
Liverpool also see some merit in Bangkok during the rainy season. They play a one off game there on 28 July on their way back from a friendly against Melbourne Victory in Australia.
Hong Kong this year plays host to the Premier League Trophy for the third time. Joining the token Hong Kong side, South China, will be Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland and games will be played as double headers on 24 and 27 July
Manchester United have a two week spin through the region starting on July 13 in Bangkok against another of those nebulous All Star concoctions before heading down to Sydney where they will meet an Aussie team of All Stars!
They follow up the Sydney winter flying north to Japan where they will play a couple of real football teams; Yokohama F Marinos and Cerezo Osaka before ending in Hong Kong with a game against local side on 29 July.
It’s not just English clubs heading our way. Last night a Singapore Selection, an All Star team by any other name, hosted an Atletico Madrid side who had just defeated Real Madrid in the Cope del Ray, losing 2-0.
Barcelona’s team of all stars will also be in the region later this summer. They have games planned in Shanghai on 4 August, Bangkok on the seventh and finish in Kuala Lumpur three days later.
Quite how Asian football benefits from this European munificence remains to be seen. The players jet in, get rushed through busy airports to be greeted by adoring, screaming fans action to get a glimpse of their heroes before moving to the hotel.
The stays are highly choreographed to minimize contact between the players and the local culture they are visiting; interaction is limited to a few words with the waiting staff or bellboys in the five star hotel, comments that get translated into the usual bland ‘we love being here’ quotes wheeled out at the obligatory press conferences which they enjoy as much as the rest of us enjoy sitting in traffic jams.
There will be the odd meet and greet where a few selected players will sit down behind plastic tables and fans will queue up to get them sign things and take pictures which will then be spread virally round their social media of choice followed by an open training session, yet more photo opportunities, and possibly a coaching clinic.
All very forced and very artificial but the clubs feel these events create a bond with the fans and the fans, who only ever see their adopted team on TV are happy to go along with the PR spin.
On the field things are not much better. The European teams are not fully fit, the games are just a warm up for them ahead of the new season and they are not fully toned. Injuries will always be at the back of their mind and no player is going to risk missing a huge chunk of the campaign thanks to one mistimed lunge on foreign fields in a meaningless game.
European clubs have been visiting this region for the best part of 15 years now and you only need take a look at the local leagues to see what type of impact they have had. But the European clubs are not concerned with the shoddy management of football in this part of the world.

SOURCE - My Jakarta Globe column last week, not available online. 

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