PFA Life Member, Andrew Harper

Australia’s move into Asia has the double edge to it. For Australia, the desire for increased competitive pathways and the accompanying intensity resounds on football grounds, but is a very expensive exercise and loaded with many logistical considerations. For Asia, including a team that, from the outset, will challenge for qualification places and trophies is ameliorated by the type and style of teams that Australia will include in competition. It is the case that Asia is completely besotted with football and, as a confederation, has the desire and the potential to allocate significant resources to improving its global competitiveness. However, all the intent, desire and money in the world can not deliver that which Australia brings; a style and football type distinctly traceable to European colonial culture, and a football player of physique and athleticism. Also, importantly, Australia provides Asia with economic impetus; a developed and sophisticated marketplace in which terms Australia, as with its football, is elevated immediately into the top echelon of AFC members. Asia is nervous about the competition that Australia brings whilst simultaneously needing the competition that comes with Australia’s membership.

Such is the potential of Asia, the world’s most populous continent; it alone has the chance to seriously challenge the economic dominance of Europe. To cast one’s eye around the football world, Conmebol and CAF are both football hotbeds but socio-economics perhaps work against any balance of economic power swinging their way. Concacaf has the advantage of Mexico and the might and attraction of the USA although the latter, in football terms, has still quite some work to do before it can command a fair share of the domestic American pie. Canada, as a Concacaf member, has appeal, although the country has been doing a reasonably good Rip Van Winkle impersonation when it comes to sport, in recent years at least. Throughout the rest of Concacaf, football has a strong cultural foothold but, like Oceania, is an amalgam of smaller and/or less developed countries.

This of course leaves Asia. Huge and, save for a sprinkling of professionals in search of one-last pay day and big clubs doing their preseason marketing exercises, relatively untapped, Asia is building towards big things. Australia, as a newcomer, sits on the periphery. For so long Australians have wondered how football was going to work in this country. On the back of the Lowy/FFA entente, the establishment of the A-League, world cup qualification and membership in Asia, the horizon no longer looks hazy.

And whilst, in the foreseeable future, it will be to the tune of Europe’s club football that most will dance, the time will inevitably come when the money pendulum will swing more to the Asian region. Asia is Australia’s now, and it is also football’s future. These are huge opportunities for both our football and our country. To have accepted the Asian invitation is one thing, to be a good guest is even more important. There is no better flag bearer for Australia’s interests than our football teams. We all have a stake in this future.