As debate rages over whether Australian talent opting for Asia is harming the national team, player agent Nikola Mandic stated that playing in the K-League is anything but a career killer for would-be Socceroos.
The one-time agent of Harry Kewell, responded to the assertions of former Australia midfielder and SBS chief football analyst Craig Foster that Australian players opting for the Gulf states, Korea Republic and China over Europe was a concern.
"Today our best young prospects are being enticed directly to Asia, from where the majority will be unable to rise," Foster wrote.
"For most, any chance they had of playing at the top will be gone, along with the national team’s depth of playing pool.
"Seeing our best young talent head to UAE, Korea and China is extremely worrying."
Mandic, who brokered the transfers of Luke DeVere from Brisbane Roar and Brendan Hamill from Melbourne Heart to the K-League, represents other players in the K-League, Asia and Europe, and pointed out that there are 20 Koreans in the world’s top leagues and clubs – 80 per cent of whom are 24 or under.
The list includes Koo Ja-Cheol (Bundesliga, age 23, Augsburg on loan from Wolfsburg in Bundesliga), Ji Dong-Won (Bundesliga, age 21, Augsburg on loan from Sunderland), Son Heung-Min (Bundesliga, age 20, Hamburg), Park Jung-Bin (Bundesliga, age 18, Greuther Furth), Ki Sung-Yueng (English Premier League, age 24, Swansea City), and Yun Suk-Young (English Premier League, age 22, Queens Park Rangers).
Overall, the number of Korean players at the world’s top leagues and clubs includes five in the Bundesliga, three in the English Premier League, one in Spain's La Liga - who is on loan from Arsenal, plus players at CSKA Moscow, Bordeaux, FC Basel, Championship topping Cardiff City, Bolton Wanderers, and three teenagers at Barcelona.
"If the question being asked is: Can Korea as a football culture and nation and the K-League consistently and repeatedly produce players, and in particular young players, that are wanted by the world’s best leagues and clubs? The answer is clear," Mandic said.
"If Australia had players in these numbers, particularly young players, we would all be significantly more comfortable regarding the direction in which Australian football was heading.
"No one that knows football would argue the point that transferring to a good European club is what is ideal for all players in order to reach their peak.
"But there is more than one way to get there and when an Asian country is able to produce this amount of young players playing in outstanding European leagues, it is logical that Australian young players are going to be influenced by such facts."
The number of Australian players in the K-League now stands at eight with DeVere and Hamill both using Korea's top flight as their first steps abroad.
"“Transferring to Korea for these players was a football decision made with reaching the top in mind and a decision that was supported by former 'Golden Generation' Socceroos that were consulted by the players on their transfers,” Mandic said.
"K-League clubs winning three out of the last four Asian Champions Leagues suggests that the K-League is a decent competition.
"Remarkably, there has not been one Japanese team in an ACL final and only one in an ACL semi-final in the last four years.
"Also, the South Korean Olympic team defeated Great Britain in Great Britain and Japan on the way to coming third in the 2012 Olympic Games.
"Together with the sheer amount of Korean players in the world’s top leagues and clubs, it shows clearly that Korea and the K-League can consistently produce outstanding players that are wanted at the world's best leagues and clubs."
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