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Shouting From The Stands: Are Asean teams ready for Asian Champions League?

Is the presence of more Asean teams in the AFC Champions League group phase this year beneficial to the region?

After the competition was expanded from 32 to 40 teams, more countries were accorded direct slots to the four-team groups, including Asean nations.

Last year, only two clubs from the region gained direct entry – Thailand’s Chiangrai United and Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim.

But in 2021, the number has tripled to six, with JDT, Thailand’s Pathum United and Port FC, Singapore’s Tampines Rovers, the Philippines’ United City FC and Viettel FC of Vietnam all being allowed in.

Another four Asean teams are still in the playoffs – Myanmar’s Shan United, the Philippines’ Kaya-Iloilo and Thai duo Ratchaburi Mitr Phol and Chiangrai.

This expansion provides a much-sought opportunity for these ‘top clubs’ in the region to play against the best teams from the best leagues in Asia.

Thai clubs are the exception, as teams like Buriram United and Muangthong United have competed in the group phase with regularity in the past.

But for the rest of Asean, this latest move is like hitting the jackpot.

Unlike in the past, when most of the Asean teams are bumped out in the playoffs every year, now they have something extra to fight for.

The direct entry ticket is a good motivator for clubs to try harder to win their domestic league titles. Those who want to rub shoulders with the "best in Asia" are required to earn their places in the main table of Asian football. It is good for the domestic football competition   

It is also a revenue booster for the clubs concerned. Funds from the television and broadcast rights for the live telecasts beamed across the region will be welcomed.

Matches may be played at centralised venues and empty stadiums right now, but when Covid-19 blows over, imagine the clamour for tickets to see the best players in Asia at their own home ground.

And not to forget the increased publicity and raise in sponsorship that will follow a club’s foray into the AFC Champions League group stage.

This will help raise the profile of Asean football throughout the region, and help the clubs at the same time to aim higher instead of being trapped in the second-tier AFC Cup mentality.

But the raising of Asean football’s profile will only work if the representatives produce quality football in the group phase. There is no point in awarding extra places if the Asean teams receive a beating every time they face a team from South Korea, Japan or China.

Nobody wants to watch lopsided matches in the group stage. This will devalue the competition and make the Asean teams a laughing stock.

In order for this new opportunity to work. Asean clubs must first prove that they belong on the same pitch as the “big boys”. And the only way to do it is on the pitch, by playing good football.   

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Kubo wants to shine at the Tokyo Olympics

Japanese football wonderkid Takefusa Kubo has pledged to give his best effort to get ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics football competition.

The 19-year-old Real Madrid player, who is currently on loan with fellow La Liga club Getafe, is looking forward to donning Japanese colours on home turf if the Games goes on as scheduled in July.

And the Japan international feels it is his duty to the nation to prepare well for the tournament and be 100% ready when it starts, regardless of the uncertainty regarding the event.

With the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of subsiding in most parts of the world, including in Japan, there are doubts over staging the mammoth event involving thousands of people from around the world.

The biggest sporting event in the world has already been postponed from its original slot last year, and another postponement looks unlikely.

While the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee are insisting the Games will go on as scheduled, the response from the Japanese public has been less encouraging. More than 80% of respondents interviewed in various media poll feel it is better for the Games to be called off as it poses a health risk to everybody.

With just six months to go to the start of the Games, the full cast for the 16-team football competition is not ready yet.

Two more teams are needed from the Central America zone qualifiers scheduled for March in Mexico. Even the staging of the qualifiers in Mexico is not certain, as much will depend on the Covid-19 situation at the time.

Kubo, while being enthusiastic over participating in the Olympics’ Under-23 football competition, also commented that if the Games were held right now, he would be reluctant to play because “health is the first priority”.

Just three days after moving to Getafe, Kubo has already made an encouraging debut for his new club against Elche on Jan 11.

It was just the kick-start he needed to start enjoying playing again, and get over the gloomy previous loan move to Villarreal which constricted him to making sporadic substitute appearances.  

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Tug-of-war by five foreign teams to sign Ardi

Ardi Idrus may not be an Indonesian national player but he is currently much sought after by foreign teams.

It was revealed that five clubs  - Malaysia’s Kelantan FC, Penang FC and Police FC, Singapore’s Balestier Khalsa and Timor Leste’s Lalenok United are all vying for the leftback’s signature.

The 28-year-old, who has yet to reveal his next move, is the latest Indonesian player to have attracted attention from elsewhere following the uncertainty over Indonesia’s domestic competition.

Ardi, who played for Persib Bandung in the Indonesian Liga 1 since 2018, is currently out of contract after Indonesia’s 2020 season was cancelled last week after 10 months of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 situation.

With no news forthcoming regarding the staging of a new 2021 season, many Indonesian clubs, including Persib, could only watch as their main players are poached or leave in search of football elsewhere.

Ardi burst into the Indonesian domestic scene with the former first division club Perssin Sinjai in 2011. Used sparingly as a defender, he then switched clubs every year in order to find regular football.

It was only when he joined Persib in 2018 that Ardi managed to hold down a starting position, and made more than 60 appearances for the 2014 Indonesian Super League champions.

Besides Ardi, two other Persib players – Beckham Putra and Febri Hariyadi, are also reportedly being courted by other clubs.

Beckham is targeted by  former Persib coach Miljan Radovic, who is now with Montenegro division one club FK Sutjeska Niksic.

Febri’s loan move to Malaysia’s Sabah FC failed to materialise over contractual issues, but it is learnt that the Borneo-based club have not given up their efforts to sign the midfielder.

At the current rate that the talented Indonesian league players are leaving, the quality of the domestic competition, when it resumes in the future, will surely be jeopardised.  

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没有起落就不是人生,Happy Belated Birthday,安贞焕!

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Who will be the kings of Asia in 2021?

The draw for the Asian Champions League 2021 competition group stage has thrown up thrilling battles, including a showdown between the current J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale and China’s richest club Guangzhou FC.

With the Covid-19 pandemic still being an obstacle in most parts of the region, the group stage matches will be played in centralised venues, which have yet to be finalised.

Unlike in previous years, when a top two finish in the group stage would automatically secure a passage into the knockout stage, only the eight best runner-up from the 10 groups will make it to the round of 16 this year.

This is due to the increase of the group stage teams from 32 to 40.

The competition kicks off with the preliminary stage on April 7 with the group stage starting a week later.

Here is the analysis of the teams occupying the five groups in the East Zone:


The cast: Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea), BG Pathum United (Thailand), Viettel FC (Vietnam) and play-off one winner. Playoff one is a match between Beijing Guoan of China and the winner of Australia’s Brisbane Roar against the Philippines’ Kaya-Iloilo.  

ULSAN HYUNDAI: The reigning champions are strong favourites to top the group. The Koreans can expect spirited challenges from an on-form Pathum and either Beijing or Brisbane, but will be too strong for the other group rivals.

Previous record: AFC Champions League winners in 2012 and 2020. Ulsan have failed to get past the group stage in just three out of their eight appearances in the regional competition. In 2017, they finished third in a group that also contained Brisbane, Japan’s Kashima Antlers and Thailand’s Muangthong United.

Head-to-head record: Ulsan have never played Pathum United and Viettel before.

In 2012, they drew with Brisbane 1-1 at home and won 2-1 in Australia in the group stage. In 2017, they defeated the Australian club 6-0 and 3-2 in the group stage.

Ulsan have won all their five previous meetings with Beijing Guoan in the Champions League. The two clubs met twice each in the group stage in 2009 and 2012, and again in the one-off quarter-finals last year, which the South Koreans won 2-0.

Key players: Junior Negrao (Bra), Yoon Bit-garam, Lee Keun-ho, Lee Chung-yon, Kim Kee-hee (all Kor)

Manager: Hong Myung-bo (Kor)

BG PATHUM UNITED: This is the first time that Pathum United have entered the group stage of the competition. The Rabbits are undefeated so far in the Thai League 1 2020/21 season and will be looking to carry on their strong form to the regional competition. Their realistic target is securing second spot in the group behind Ulsan.

Previous record: In their only other appearance in the AFC Champions League in 2015, Pathum defeated Malaysia’s JDT 3-0 in the preliminary round before falling to Beijing Guoan 0-3 in the playoff stage.

Head-to-head record: Pathum have never played any of the other two teams in the group. They have a chance to exact revenge on Beijing for the 2015 thrashing if the Chinese Super League side make it past the playoff stage as expected.

Key players: Surachat Sareepim, Thitiphan Puangchan, Teerasil Dangda (all Tha), Diogo (Bra)

Manager: Dusit Chalermsan (Tha)

VIETTEL FC: The V-League 1 champions are making their debut in the AFC Champions League. Their only other appearance in a regional competition came in 1999, in the old Asian Club Championship tournament. Then, they received a first round bye from Hong Kong’s Happy Valley before being hammered 1-7 on aggregate by South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the following round.

Viettel have made a horrendous start to their title defence in Vietnam, gaining just one point in the opening two games. They are not expected to withstand the might of Ulsan, Pathum and either Beijing or Brisbane. It will be more of an experience-gaining exercise for the Vietnam club.

Previous record: None

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Pedro Paulo (Bra), Bui Tien Dung, Nguyen Hoang Duc, Ho Khac Ngoc (all Vie)

Manager: Nguyen Hai Bien (Vie)



The cast: Jiangsu FC (China), Nagoya Grampus (Japan), JDT (Malaysia) and playoff three winner. Playoff three is between Pohang Steelers of South Korea and Thailand’s Ratchaburi Mitr Phol.

JIANGSU FC: The 2020 Chinese Super League winners are making a return to the regional competition after a three-year absence. They will be involved in a close three-way battle with J-league’s Nagoya Grampus and K-League’s Pohang Steelers, who should overcome Ratchaburi in the playoffs.

Their shock march to a maiden CSL triumph should not be taken lightly. Much will depend on whether Jiangsu are able to maintain the same level of performance while juggling commitments in both domestic and regional football.

Previous record: Group stage of the 2013 and 2016 tournaments. Finished top of their group in 2017 ahead of Gamba Osaka, Jeju United and Adelaide United before exiting in the round of 16 after losing 3-5 on aggregate to Shanghai SIPG.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Eder (Italy), Miranda (Brazil), Ivan Santini (Croatia), Wu Xi (China), Mubarak Wakaso (Ghana).  

Manager: Cosmin Olaroui (Rom)

NAGOYA GRAMPUS: On paper, the J-League club should be a shoo-in to secure a spot to the next phase. However, the emergence of Jiangsu as a strong contender and the possibility of all the matches being played at one of their rivals ground could tip the balance away from them.

Despite not winning any silverware since 2010, Nagoya have remained a strong contender in Japan. They are not fancied as a favourite for the title and will be fighting hard to secure a top two finish in the group.

Previous record: On all their three appearances in the rebranded AFC Champions League, Nagoya made it to the knockout stages. They fell in the round of 16 in both 2011 and 2012, and made it all the way to the semi-final before losing 8-3 on aggregate to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad in 2009.

Head-to-head meetings: None

Key players: Gabriel Xavier, Mataeus (both Bra), Mu Kanazaki, Manabu Saito, Yoichiro Kakitani (all Jpn)

Manager: Massimo Ficadenti (Ita)  

JOHOR DARUL TA’ZIM: This is the eighth appearance in Asia’s top-tier club competition for the Malaysian champions. But the 2015 AFC Cup champions have never got past the group stage before and are unlikely to do so again this year.

They escaped sanctions from AFC after failing to turn up in Qatar to complete their group fixtures last year, due to failing to get clearance to travel from the Malaysian government during the Covid-19 pandemic. Can play the role of spoilers to trip up the big guns in the group.

Previous record: Have made the group stage of this competition only twice before this year. In 2019, managed to win one, draw one and lost four of their group matches. Last year, managed to upset K-League’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings 2-1 at home but the result was voided after JDT failed to show up in Qatar.

Head-to-head meetings: None

Key players: Jonathan Herrera, Gonzalo Cabrera (both Arg), Nazmi Faiz, Safawi Rasid, Hazwan Bakri (all Mas)

Manager: Benjamin Mora (Mex)    



The cast: Jeonbuk Hyundai (South Korea), Gamba Osaka (Japan), Tampines Rovers (Singapore) and Sydney FC (Australia).

JEONBUK HYUNDAI: The reigning K-League champions will start as the group favourites and should progress without much difficulty. After being eliminated at the group stage last year, Jeonbuk will not make the mistake of taking it too easy this time.

Past record: A regular in the regional competition, Jeonbuk have lifted the Champions League title twice in 2006 and 2016. In their 11 appearances in the regional meet, the South Korean club have only failed to qualify for the knockout stages twice – in 2012 and last year, when they finished behind Yokohama Marinos and Shanghai SIPG.

Head-to-head record: Lost 2-3 on aggregate to Gamba Osaka in the 2015 quarter-finals. Beat Sydney FC 1-0 at home and drew 2-2 away in last year’s group stage. Have not played Tampines Rovers yet.

Key players: Lee Dong-gook, Lee Yong, Lee Seung-gi (all Kor), Gustavo (Bra), Stanislav Iljutsenko (Rus).

Manager: Jose Morais (Por)

GAMBA OSAKA: Last year’s J-league runners-up are expected to clinch one of the two spots in the group alongside Jeonbuk. With plenty of experience in this competition, the group phase will be a warm-up for them to prepare for tougher challenges ahead in the knockout phase.

Previous record: Won the Champions League in 2008. Will be looking to erase the memory of finishing bottom of their group in their last appearance in the competition in 2017.

Head-to-head meeting: Beat Jeonbuk Hyundai 3-2 on aggregate in the 2015 quarter-finals. Have yet to play Tampines Rovers and Sydney FC.

Key players: Kim Young-gwon (Kor), Patric (Bra), Genta Miura, Yosuke Ideguchi, Shu Kurata (all Jpn)

Manager: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (Jpn)

TAMPINES ROVERS: The Singapore S-League runners-up in 2002 gained entry to the Champions League group phase for the first time. However, they are not expected to pose much of a challenge for the other teams in the group.

Previous record: Lost in the playoffs in both their previous appearances, 2-0 to Global FC of the Philippines in 2017 and 3-1 to Indonesia’s Bali United in 2018.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Jordan Webb (Can), Zehrudin Mehmedovic (Srb), Kyoga Nakamura (Jpn), Baihakki Khaizan, Daniel Bennett (both Sin)

Manager: Kadir Yahaya (Sin)

SYDNEY FC: Sydney FC have been regulars in Asia’s premier club competition since the country became a member of AFC.

Although heavyweights in the A-League, they have just been making up the numbers in Asia. Sydney failed to stamp their mark over the years and have only once made it to the round of 16 despite featuring in the group phase seven times.

Previous record: Have failed to get past the group stage in six appearances. Made it to the round of 16 in 2016 before being eliminated by China’s Shandong Luneng on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

Head-to-head meeting: Lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai 0-1 away and drew 2-2 at home in last year’s group stage.

Key players: Bobo (Bra), Milos Ninkovic (Srb), Alex Wilkinson (Aus), Kosta Barbarouses (Nzl)

Manager: Steve Corica (Aus)



The cast: Kawasaki Frontale (Japan), Guangzhou FC (China), United City FC (Philippines) and play-off four winner. Playoff four is a match between South Korea’s Daegu FC and Thailand’s Chiangrai United.

KAWASAKI FRONTALE: The current J-league champions will start as a strong contender for tthis year’s Champions League title. They should be a shoo-in for a top two finish in the group, and their biggest threat will be their own over-confidence.

With the likes of Guangzhou and possibly Daegu keeping company in Group I, any slip-up by the J-League champions can be fatal.

Previous record: Despite their dominance in domestic football, Kawasaki have never made it past the last eight in the Champions League. Their best achievement is making the quarter-finals in 2007, 2009 and 2017.

Head-to-head meeting: Drew with Guanzhou FC twice (0-0 at home and 1-1 away) during the 2017 Champions League group stage in their only previous meeting.

Key players: Leandro Damiao, Joao Schmidt (both Bra), Shogo Taniguchi, Yu Kobayashi, Tatsuya Hasegawa (all Jpn)

Manager: Toru Oniki (Jpn)

GUANGZHOU FC: Still licking their wounds after losing the Chinese Super League crown to Jiangsu, it will be interesting to see if Guangzhou will place their full focus on the AFC Champions League this year.

China’s richest football club’s clashes against the J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale will be the one of the main highlights of this year’s group stage. Guangzhou should move on to the next stage with the Japanese giants, but need to be wary of Daegu’s threat, if the Koreans get past their playoff hurdle.

Previous record: Two-time winners of the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015. Guangzhou have qualified for the regional competition every year since 2012, only failing to get past the group stage in 2016 and last year.

Head-to-head meeting: Drew twice with Kawasaki Frontale (0-0 away and 1-1 at home) during the group stage in 2017.

Key players: Fernando Henrique, Aloisio, Paulinho (all Bra), Zheng Zhi, Elkeson (both Chn)

Manager: Fabio Cannavaro (Ita)

UNITED CITY FC: Formerly known as Ceres, the Philippines champions are regulars in the AFC Cup, but are untested in the Champions League group phase.

Having been drawn against heavyweight teams from Japan, China and possibly South Korea, it will be more of a damage control exercise for United City.

Previous record: Failed to qualify for the group stage in three previous attempts over the last three years. The closest they came was in 2020, when the Filipinos beat Myanmar;s Shan United 3-2 and Thailand’s Port FC 1-0 but fell to Japan’s FC Tokyo 0-2 in the final playoff game.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Stephan Schrok, Mike Ott (both Phi), Bienvenido Maranon (Spa), Robert Mendy (Sen), Takashi Odawara (Jpn)

Manager: Trevor Morgan (Eng)



The cast: Shandong Luneng (China), Port FC (Thailand), Kitchee (Hong Kong) and play-off two winner. Playoff two is between Cerezo Osaka of Japan and the winner of Australia’s Melbourne City against Myanmar’s Shan United.

SHANDONG LUNENG: The 2020 Chinese FA Cup winners seem to have gotten a kind draw, even if J-League team Cerezo Osaka get into the group as expected via the playoffs.

Shandong have regularly featured in the Asian premier club competition but have often struggled to get past the group stage. This year, they should not face much difficulties in securing a top-two group finish.

Previous record: Shandong’s best result is making the quarter-finals in 2005 before bowing out 3-8 on aggregate to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad.

Head-to-head meeting: Shandong have not played against Port FC, Kitchee, Melbourne City and Shan United previously. They have met Cerezo twice, winning once (2-0) and losing once (0-4) during the competition’s group stage in 2011.

Key players: Marouane Fellaini (Bel), Roger Guiedes, Moises (both Bra), Liu Yang, Hao Junmin (both Chn)

Manager: Li Xiaopeng (Chn)

PORT FC: The Thai FA Cup champions are making their debut in the Champions League group phase and can play the role of spoilers to get a positive result or two.

However, their inexperience of playing with the Asian big boys could count against them, especially in a group featuring the seasoned Shandong and most likely Cerezo.

Previous record: Knocked out by the Philippines’ Ceres (now known as United City) 0-1 in the preliminary playoff round last year.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Yannick Boli (Civ), Go Seul-ki (Kor), Adisak Kraisom, Bordin Phala, Siwakorn Jakkuprasat (all Tha).

Manager: Sarawut Treephan (Tha)

KITCHEE: Another AFC Cup regular who have been granted a spot in the Champions League group phase this year. Just like Port FC, the Hong Kong champions are not expected to make much headway except to make life difficult for the big boys.

Kitchee will compete with the Thai club to avoid finishing at the bottom of the group.

Previous record: Pulled off a stunning 1-0 win over J-League’s Kashiwa Reysol at home during their lone group phase appearance in 2015. But Kitchee then lost the other five games in a group that also featured Jeonbuk Hyundai and Tianjin Quanjin.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Wellinngsson, Tomas (both Bra), Park Jun-heong (Kor), Clement Benhaddouche (Fra), Matt Orr (Hkg).

Manager: Chu Chi Kwong (Hkg)

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虽然现年43岁的卡立,早已不是当年在球场内外都能呼风唤雨的大腕,但至少转行当小贩也总算能够改善自身的经济状况。卡立目前是在瓜拉冷岳县开设档口,具体地址是Lepak Court, Batu 7, Sijangkang, Kuala Langat。有意支持这位前国脚的波友们,可去试看卡立的厨艺是否像他的球技一样精湛。

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Indonesia don’t want to lose Khuwailid to Qatar

Indonesia want the Qatar-based player Khuwailid Mustafa to help beef up the Garudas for the World Cup 2022 qualifiers.

The 20-year-old Al-Duhial player, who is currently on loan with fellow Qatar League 1 club Qatar SC, was born in Acheh but grew up in the Middle East. He is eligible to represent both Indonesia and Qatar, but has yet to be called up by either country.

Khuwailid signed a five-year contract with Al-Duhial (formerly known as Lekhwiya FC) before being loaned out this season to gain experience.  

Indonesia head coach Shin Tae-yong confirmed that he is monitoring Khuwailid’s progress and will likely include the player in his squad. Tae-yong wants to move swiftly to tie Khuwailid with Indonesia as he does not want to lose the player to Qatar.

The Garudas have learnt their lesson after delays led Andri Syahputra, who was also born in Acheh but later moved with his family to Qatar, to represent the oil-rich sultanate’s Under-19 and Under-20 teams.

The 21-year-old featured for Qatar at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland two years ago.

The Indonesia national team is already out of contention to qualify for the 2022 World Cup Finals in Qatar. They are currently bottom of Group G, which also includes Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

The exact dates and location for the remaining qualifying matches, which has been put on hold due to Covid-19, have not been finalised yet.  

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值得一提的是,雪兰莪也留住了上赛季的马超金靴奥卢瑟贡 。这位尼日利亚前锋在上赛季出战11次便取得了12个进球,效率惊人。


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Can Chinese football recover from its present slump?

In the latest rankings released by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), the Chinese Super League and its clubs are nowhere near where they want to be.

The CSL are ranked a lowly 43rd globally and only fourth in Asia – behind South Korea’s K-League (20th), Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Professional League (31st) and Japan’s J-League (38th).

In terms of clubs, Beijing Guoan are the sole CSL representative ranked within the top 200 in the world.

They are ranked 119th, and are sixth best in Asia behind K-League’s 2020 Asian Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai (33rd) and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (75th), Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia (82nd), Iran’s Pakhtakor (85th), and another Saudi side Al Hilal (109th).

The IFFHS ranking system and the criteria it is based on has been criticised by many parties. But the latest results regarding China’s football has been generally accepted as a true reflection of the present situation by the Chinese football’s critics.

Despite the vast amount of money poured into the league and an expensive outlay of players and coaches brought in over the past decade, the general consensus is that the quality of the football has not improved much.

The presence of famous football personalities like Oscar, Hulk, Wagner, Fabio Cannavaro, Marcelo Lippi and Rafael Benitez were expected to make the CSL popular globally.

However, the league has failed to garner much following outside of China, and the presence of the superstars has not helped in improving the quality of China’s footballers or the national team.

The main accusation is that these foreign players and coaches are only interested in making money when they come to play in China, and do not show the full commitment and fighting spirit that had made them famous in the first place.

The CSL is also in danger of becoming a retirement home for those who are past their peak, akin to the United States’ Major League Soccer.

It would have been better if the sponsors and investors, and also the football clubs in China, had put the hundreds of millions spent to purchase instant success into productive development programmes.

For a country with over a billion population, it will be beneficial to produce a larger pool of young football talents to choose from.  

The CSL should not be used as a popularity contest among the wealthy club backers, but a long-term project to produce quality local players for sustained success.

With stricter financial controls being implemented for the 2021 season and the implications of Covid-19 hitting hard, the CSL is expected to suffer a steeper drop in the rankings.

Unless the people running the clubs and its wealthy backers start looking at long-term goals, Chinese football will struggle to make a name on the global scene.

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Shouting From The Stands: Malaysia lucky to be part of Jo’s football journey

“Just call me Jo” was the standard greeting that is remembered by those who had the privilege to meet or work with Dr. Jozef Venglos in Malaysia.

The man considered a football managerial genius passed away on Tuesday (January 26) at the age of 84.

As a player, the Slovakian’s record was unremarkable. But as a manager, and later a FIFA administrator, he was a trail-blazer who bucked tradition and set trends years before others did it.

Malaysian football is blessed to be associated with such a visionary. He coached Kuala Lumpur for two seasons in 1985 and 1986, and coached the Malaysian national team in 1986-87.

The core players from his team like Zainal Abidin Hassan, Dollah Salleh, Lim Teong Kim and Azizol Abu Hanafiah then went on to win the SEA Games gold medal in 1989.

Even at that time when Europeans were generally addressed as “Sir”, Venglos will insist that others call him as Jo or Jozef.

And when he spoke, others listened raptly. Although he did not possess a booming voice or had a stern demeanour, players and officials said he had a certain aura which made others give full attention whenever he spoke.

“He did not waste words. Every word he said was important. And the way he speaks also makes it sound important. So, everyone listened quietly, even when he was just having a friendly chat,” recounted a former Kuala Lumpur football official.

Venglos is remembered as a person who was humble and sincere to help Malaysian football.

He has criss-crossed the globe several times in a managerial career that began with FC Prague Sydney in Australia in 1966 and ended at JEF United Ichihara in Japan in 2002.

In between, he took in jobs in the former Czechoslovakia, Australia, Portugal, Malaysia, England, Turkey, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Oman and Scotland.

He is best known in England as the first non-British manager to take charge of a top flight team with Aston Villa in 1990-91. Although his presence proved unpopular at the time, it helped pave the way for the influx of non-British managers to England.

In Scotland, he is still remembered by Celtics fans for leading the Bhoys to an emphatic 5-1 win over Rangers in the Glasgow derby in 1998.

He also coached famous clubs like Sporting Lisbon and Fenerbahce during his nomadic career.

Venglos’ biggest success as a manager was in guiding his home country Czechoslovakia to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals in Italy. He was an assistant coach to Vaclav Jezek when Czechoslovakia won the European Championship in 1976.

After his final managerial role in the J-League, Venglos went on to take positions at the Slovakian Football Federation and on the FIFA and UEFA technical committees.

His contribution to football in different parts of the world has been immense, and Malaysia is fortunate to have been part of Venglos’ “football journey”. 

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