Asian football woes not our problem: European clubs

Asian football woes not our problem: European clubs
Chelsea FC's Asia Pacific managing director Adrian New at the Sports Matters conference at Marina Bay Sands.

Despite the slipping standards of Asian football - evident at the recent World Cup - the top European teams are adamant that propping up Asia's football pedigree is not their priority.

This, even though some teams frequently tour the region during pre-season and have set up football schools in Asian countries.

Big names such as Spain's Barcelona and England's Manchester United have made pre-season visits to the region as recently as last year while the former is just one of five sides - along with Chelsea, Real Madrid, Arsenal and AC Milan - who currently have football schools in the Republic.

In March, the English Premier League (EPL) signed an agreement with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to develop the former's Premier Skills international grassroots coaching project in this region, and to establish exchange programmes.

Speaking at the two-day Sports Matters seminar which began yesterday at the Marina Bay Sands, Chelsea's managing director in Asia Pacific, Adrian New said: "While we too want to see Asian football grow, it is not our responsibility as an English football club to grow Asian football as strong as it can.

"Although we feel a responsibility to give back to the community, where football was born out of, by helping kids love the game through top-quality coaching at our schools... that is very different to the structure and organisation of football which is the responsibility of the local associations and the AFC.

"Is it Chelsea's responsibility to make the S-League the best league in the world? No, that's the responsibility of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and the AFC."

Added Xavier Asensi, Barcelona's managing director in Asia Pacific: "We can't carry the burden of improving standards of local football. That needs to be managed by local associations.

"We can't go into a country acting like a crusader of football as that would be too arrogant."

Since European teams began coming here regularly at the turn of the 21st century, there has always been a debate about whether they are just here for the money.

The top sides reportedly pocket fees of at least £1 million (S$2.06 million) to play a pre-season friendly match here in Asia, while fans here have had to absorb rising costs to watch EPL matches due to escalating prices for the television rights.

"They may not get the same level of quality in a pre-season friendly as compared to an in-season match but fans don't expect that as they know they can get it on the television," said Asensi.

"Essentially, they just want to see their team up close and we tour because of our fans."

Added New: "Most clubs do try to engage the communities they tour in. For us, we always build a (football) school after our matches; organise meet-and-greet sessions with fans and work with our local partners to ensure tickets are available for fans to come and watch our games.

"Touring is a profit-generating activity but we're a business and everything we do has to have a financial upside and that is one of them."

This article was first published on September 18, 2014.
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