Middling Dutch club Heerenveen are showing the huge impact a signing from Southeast Asia can have in opening up one of the world’s booming economies with a population of almost 100 million to the Eredivisie. Why isn't the A-League doing the same?
Southeast Asia should be Australia’s backyard when it comes to football.
It doesn’t have to mean that A-League clubs should be calling the shots in the region but they should have a general awareness of any significant goings-on. This is especially true when it comes to players and especially bright young prospects.
When talent emerges in Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere, Australian clubs should know about it. And the ideal is that when a highly-rated prospect moves out of Southeast Asian then A-League teams have already had a look.
When a player heads elsewhere, the line of enquiry for A-League clubs should be: did we know about him? Was he good enough for our competition? If so, could we have afforded him?
That does not mean that the best will always come. Some have their sights set on Europe.The point is, that it is in the interest of Australian football to know what is going on in the region of over 600 million people to the north.
That is obviously the ideal but the lack of Southeast Asians that have played in the A-League suggests that the ideal is still quite far away.
Yet, events of last week show that even if Australian clubs are not that interested in ASEAN talent, other clubs in other leagues are.
For example, Doan Van Hau left Vietnam this week to join Dutch club Heerenveen on a year-long loan though the hope is that it lasts for longer. The defender, who can play in the middle or on the left of the back line, is just 20, excellent on the ball and already a fully-fledged international for the best national team in Southeast Asia.
Big things are expected and while it remains to be seen whether the Eredivisie is the right move for the player --though it probably is given the standard of football, training and coaching and the fact that it has proven to be a fine stepping stone for Asian players in the past -- it is an exciting and imaginative one.
Van Hau is the kind of player that Australian clubs should be after.
The lack of A-League activity in Southeast Asia is not only a problem in the sense that Australia doesn't know enough about what is going on in a transfer sense but also means that the best young talent there never really consider Australia as a potential destination. If there was some interest shown, it would be reciprocated.
There is an issue with the Van Hau move in that it has cost over $1 million. In the current transfer market this is not expensive for such a prospect but it is a figure that would be seen as high for a Southeast Asian player in Australia.
Yet Heerenveen are showing the way forward in financing a deal when you sign a player such as Van Hau from a country such as Vietnam.
Heerenveen are planning to pay for Van Hau with increased sponsorship revenue from Dutch companies who are looking to make inroads in the Vietnamese market.
If all goes well in one of the world’s booming economies with a population of almost 100 million then the club could even end up making a profit. The early signs are good.
Such a move would barely warrant a mention in Korea and Japan but there is excitement in Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City at one of their best players going to a middling Dutch club. This is one reason why it is better to look to Southeast Asia than Tokyo or Seoul for talent. The deals tend to be cheaper but are also seen as much bigger.
Heerenveen have talked about the social media impact that they expect their new signing to have and the instant addition of 200,000 Facebook followers from the country shows that the player can make a difference off the pitch.
This is nothing that could not happen in Sydney, Melbourne or elsewhere. There would be major interest in Vietnam if a star such as Van Hau headed Down Under.
Of course, sustained commercial success comes from the player being good enough to do the business on the pitch but there is no reason why the new signing can’t become a success in the Netherlands. He is part of a talented generation.
If a club in the Netherlands can see this then clubs in Australia should be able to do the same. Southeast Asia should be the A-League’s backyard. There are major possibilities but eyes, ears and minds have to be open.