Opinion

Australia has missed out in Asia, perhaps Africa can help

This English Premier League season has been striking this season with the fact that three African players ended as joint top scorers.

The quality of Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Sadio Mane as well as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal have been there for all to see.

Indeed, had Ajax not conceded that last-minute goal against Tottenham Hotspur in the semi final of the UEFA Champions League then there could have been as many as six or seven African players in the final in on June 1 in Madrid.

There will be plenty of attention on the sole Asian player, Son Heung-min, but it is far likelier that an African star will decide whether the most prestigious club trophy in the world goes to North London or North-West England.

There is plenty of talent in the African market and plenty of value too yet the continent has had few representatives in the A-League, a pattern that has been repeated in much of Asia in the past.

Of the big leagues in the east, only Chinese clubs have paid more than a passing glance in the direction of Africa.

Beijing Guoan broke the African record last year, reportedly paying more than $80 million for Cedric Bakambu from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was always going to struggle to provide value for money. Much better to buy potential talent before it makes it big on the European stage. That is easier said than done and Africa has proven hard to penetrate for Asian teams.

There is a general lack of knowledge of the scene there. Sure, all know there is talent and I remember the awe players like Didier Drogba were held in across East Asia.

Korean fans called him ‘Drog-god’ and Japan’s 2014 World Cup challenge pretty much crumbled there and then once their players saw the Ivory Coast striker standing on the sideline, ready to come on the pitch.

But clubs look to South America for talent instead. Nobody is going to question a coach for bringing in a Brazilian striker, such a thing suggests glamour, guile and goals. Even after years of Samba stars coming and going --some doing great with others doing little at all --it still happens.

A big reason is that a pipeline exists and it is well-oiled. Clubs around Asia know that they can pick up the phone or send an email to one of a number of agents and there will be videos of Brazilians scoring goals available within minutes. It is a smooth process.

This is a reason why there was a sudden growth in Japanese players heading to the Bundesliga around a decade ago. It was not just because German clubs suddenly woke up to the talent in the Land of the Rising Sun but also down to the fact agents started to make it happen.  When you have the right people in place then it becomes much easier.

Most Asian clubs don’t have a reliable presence or network in Africa. It does not help that agents from a number of African countries have something of an untrustworthy reputation..

Yet this is starting to change. There has been talk among officials in East Asia of the need to look to African markets. The pipeline is not yet there but where it would start and how it would work are being investigated for the first time.

Australia should take heed. There is no doubt that the A-League would be a desirable destination for young African talent. Even those down under that don’t rate Asian talent that highly would surely acknowledge that there is no shortage of Africa, it is the practical problems that get in the way.

Europe has shown in recent weeks, and will do so once again on June 1, that there is huge value in African football.  The A-League has missed out on becoming a place for Asian talent to forge itself but there are still possibilities when it comes to Africa.