Sunday, September 25, 2005

AFC: 10 professional leagues needed for Asia

Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam has unveiled an ambitious vision for the region to become a powerhouse, capable of attracting the world's biggest stars to play in its leagues. He has also called on fans to support local teams rather than European giants that had no relationship with Asia. He told the Sydney Sun-Herald his vision was for Asia to develop its regional leagues to be the equal of those in Europe, attracting top players in their prime.

"I want one day for players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane to see that there are opportunities for them to play in Asia and earn as good as they can in Europe," he said. "In the future, economically, Asia can be number one. My dream is for Asia to compete in attracting the top stars of the world. This is where we can make Asia on the level of Europe, or at least next to Europe. It can be achieved and not just in Japan, Korea and Australia, for example.

"We should aim to create about 10 professional leagues in Asia and the standard should match English, Italian and Spanish leagues in all aspects. There is a lot of potential for the leagues to be developed in India and China - the big two potential markets - and the Middle East."

Bin Hammam said the A-League should be a platform for Australian fans to engage with top-level football through the Asian Champions League rather than exclusively following European clubs.

"It is important that Australians can follow and support local teams and the national team rather than Manchester United or Liverpool," he said. "But we have to raise the standard of Asian football. That is our obligation and duty, and the duty of the clubs and national associations."

Bin Hammam said he wanted more players of Asian origin in the A-League. "The more high standard leagues we have then the greater opportunities for Asian players to move from one country to another country and one league to another league," he said.

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