Opinion

Why Perth can become Australia's 'Asian' team

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Flying from Southeast Asia to Sydney and Melbourne and it is easy to cast an envious eye at those heading to Perth, a much more manageable journey of five hours compared to a lengthy eight or more.

The Western Australian city sits much closer to the region’s major cities such as Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur than any other down under and it is time for Perth Glory to stake a claim to be Australia’s Asian club.

It could be a significant consolation after that grand final penalty shootout loss.

Appearing in the AFC Champions League for the first time in 2020 will be a major step forward for Glory.

Other A-League clubs have had their chance on the continent, with varying degrees of success but perhaps Perth could be the team that marries success on and off the pitch in Asia. 

The club’s CEO Tony Sage has been vocal about closer continental ties but not being in the Champions League has been a drag on getting the club’s name out there.

This is why it is crucial that Perth give it their all when they actually get into the competition.

But Sage does not want to stop there. He has gone on record saying that he wants to help expand the A-League into Southeast Asia.

“ ... It’s only, believe it or not, another half an hour for Perth to fly to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur than it is to Sydney or Brisbane,” Sage said in November.

“But you’ve got 300 million people in that region. Imagine if you had 300 million people watching, so a team in Malaysia, a team in Singapore, a team in Jakarta, and maybe one in Manila or maybe one in Hong Kong.”

The comments were dismissed at the time but are worthy of consideration, at the very least as a conversation starter.

At least they show a recognition that Southeast Asia is the closest region to Australia and if the A-League is going to find any significant overseas audience then it is here where it is the likeliest to happen. 

There is some history in the region of inter-league engagement. Singapore is the obvious example with teams from South Korea, China, Japan and Brunei appearing in the city state’s top tier over the years.

There have also been plenty of Malaysia-Singapore interchanges too.

The prospect of playing in the A-League while being based in Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia would attract interest, that would be the easy part.

If the A-League was really clever it would invite teams from Singapore and Malaysia, ensuring that local rivalries would be played out in an Australian competition. That would really add an extra dimension.

‘How’ is a more difficult question to answer, as it always is when it comes to such discussions? How to have teams from other countries involved in Australia without their being negative consequences back home. 

For a start, these teams would have to be competitive in the A-League. In order to do so then the teams would have to include some of the best local talent.

Regular games with the best in Australia would benefit those players but would weaken leagues that already have issues when it comes to strength in depth.

A team fully-made up of foreign players would be an option with the money coming from elsewhere. That is unlikely to win much local support and would not do much to improve the local game.

It could also be too popular. When Singapore and Malaysia allowed a team full of young players to compete in each other’s leagues, it worked quite well for the most part.

But especially in Singapore, the LionsXII, who were playing in the Malaysia Super League, became such a big deal and so popular that they became almost a second national team.

They attracted the best players and then the most fans. This made the atmosphere something special at times but it did take a lot of attention away from the local league. 

There is a danger that the football scene in Singapore (always looking for something a little different) could latch on to a team doing well in Australia especially if it was outperforming Malaysians at the same time.

This could be damaging domestically.

That is a long way down the line. Having Southeast Asian teams in the A-League would be a huge deal and may never happen but conversations about cooperation can be valuable.

At the very least, being in the Champions League and positioning themselves as the one closest to Asia emotionally as well as physically can only be good for Perth Glory.