All good things come to those who wait, or so we are told, and finally after years of waiting the A-League will introduce the plus one rule and fall into line with every other Asian league.
FFA announced the move today, with CEO David Gallop declaring: “The 4-plus-1 structure will strengthen the A-League by further integrating Australian football into the Asian community.”
It’s a move that is long overdue and was one that should have been made either before, or directly after the hosting of the AFC Asian Cup in 2015, to capitalise on the fantastic community engagement work conducted in the lead up to that tournament. But better late than never.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the 2011 Census shows that six percent of Australians were born in Asia, while the number of Asian-Australians living in each capital city is over eight percent, with Sydney and Melbourne recording the highest number with over 18 percent.
The World Game has seen a paper that was presented to FFA early last year, outlining the numerous commercial and social benefits that would flow should the plus one rule be introduced, largely on the back of the groundwork done for the AFC Asian Cup, which hard to believe was two years ago.
That tournament opened up enormous opportunities, with Asian-Australian communities engaged like never before and the benefits were there for all to see.
Who could forget the sights and sounds from a heaving AAMI Park as Iranian fans from all over Australia, who made up the majority of the 17,712 in attendance, descended on the Victorian capital to cheer on their team against Bahrain?
And no one will ever forget Canberra Stadium being turned into a mini Azadi Stadium for the quarter-final between Iran and Iraq.
Imagine the possibilities should an A-League club sign one of Iran’s national team stars like Masoud Shojaei, Andranik Teymourian or Ashkan Dejagah?
That little has been done to keep the Asian-Australian communities engaged post-Asian Cup is a sad indictment. While some clubs do some good community work, the best way to engage these communities is to give them a hero to attach to and work from there.
The introduction of the plus one rule across Asia over the last decade has provided enormous benefit to Australian players, with new career opportunities opening up right across the continent from Indonesia to India, while it has also promoted greater movement of Asian players around the continent.
A-League clubs, however, have been more reluctant to look north and have had a hit and miss record with Asian signings, with Shinji Ono at Western Sydney, Ali Abbas at Newcastle and Sydney, and Shengqing Qu at Adelaide United arguably the three standouts in the first 12 years of the league.
This new rule means, if all clubs utilise the provision, from the 2018-2019 season a minimum of ten Asian players will ply their trade in the A-League. This year only two players – Japan’s Jumpei Kusukami (Western Sydney) and China’s Ma Leilei (Newcastle) – have been signed by A-League clubs, the equal lowest total in A-League history.
While not all who come here will be a success, the same is also the case for players from South America or Europe. What it means is clubs will have to work harder to develop stronger links and scouting networks across the region, and long-term that can only be a good thing.