Chill down

Never mind Kagawa, here’s your Asian striker.

In other words, because Kagawa isn’t around.
Well, that’s not very fair, is it? Ulsan Hyundai qualify to the AFC Champions League final, the fourth in the row for K-League teams, Keisuke Honda’s kicking around in Russia, and Manchester City is interested to give Hideki Ishige a training run.

But it’s another calm weekend for Asian football. Certainly Shinji Kagawa is the focal point of Asian representation in world football, just like Jeremy Lin does in basketball. And yeah, it’s making me nervous if he does play – worried that he would play badly. Again, that’s not very fair considering that he has scored two goals and several assists in England and Europe, better than Rooney and Welbeck. But while many in Japan overhype him (as usual with any Asian sporting star), many others want to see him fails to make impression in Manchester United, and not only in Europe. Perhaps some of them are also in Asia. They have no problem with a Turk, or Barbadian, or an Congolese, but many people in this world still think that an East Asian doesn’t belong on the pitch. Of course, no one thinks that Ali al-Habsi or Sanharib Malki is doing what he’s not supposed to do.

Sadly, there’s not much replacement could stand in for Kagawa. Whether he plays or not, these days it’s hard to admire Park Ji-sung as the captain of Queen’s Park Rangers (although QPR is probably the only team in Europe to feature players from all confederations, thanks to him, Ryan Nelsen, and Junior Hoillet). The worse thing I can do is to watch Southampton – Maya Yoshida is tumbling and fumbling once more week after week, and Tadanari Lee is never around, not even on the bench (please choose him over Emmanuel Mayuka. Please).

Of course, I am envious of the Belgians – five years ago they were the jokes of Europe, now their players are sought after even perhaps more than the Dutch. Five years ago, Japan and South Korea could handle them. A fate that Kagawa has is that he’s seen as the poor replacement to Eden Hazard. Of course, if you think about it, at least the Japanese and the Koreans are not Australians. Yeah I know, I’m thinking about Koo Ja-cheol rather than Ryo Miyaichi when trying to compare them with Kofi Danning.

…and another thing

First, of course the best news this week is Ulsan Hyundai. I’ve taken the fact that a Korean team will play in the ACL final for granted and it happens again. Yeah it’s good luck, but in any year there’s must be one Korean team that have the guts, the tradition, the determination, and the skill to get forward. Japan qualified three teams to the playoff round and none of them had enough of those requirements. Seongnam, in short, was just out money just like Bunyodkor were, but even the glamour-less Uzbeks still could overcome Adelaide United.

The ACL 2012 were full of unfulfilled fairy tales, it wasn’t UEFA Champions League 2003-04 (final: Porto versus Monaco). No Guangzhou, no ‘wild card’ Adelaide, and Ulsan dispatched Al Hilal too easily. In the end, it was the battle of giants (also Al Ahli were also supposed the third rank team behind Hilal and Ittihad). So what makes Ulsan great? Simply Kim Young-kwang, a cultish goalkeeper, and the ex Gamba Osaka duo of Rafinha and Lee Keun-ho. There’s one in the list of reasons of Gamba’s sudden decline.

Their midfielders are not famous, while defenders Kang Min-soo and Kwak Tae-hwi can be as clumsy as Manchester United defenders (evident in the first half of last mid-week match against Bunyodkor). But I’ve taken another assumption for granted – AFC representatives will become the third best team in the FIFA Club World Cup. They can still take on African and CONCACAF champions anytime.

….suddenly I wonder if J. League disinterest with the ACL is also related to the fact that it only needs to win the J. League to qualify for the Club World Cup. Then again, I don’t want the CWC to be hosted in the Gulf.

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Stop that, you’re embarassing me

Worst case scenario.

They are at it again. Less than a month after Blackburn Rovers’ demise from the English Premier League, another Asian group of owners of an English football club is toying with their new property. Cardiff City F.C., which will play in English Football Championship, are known as the Bluebirds. Despite the fact that their new crest shows a red dragon with “Fire and Passion” motto below it (which is, of course, closer to a dragon’s traits than a bluebird), and then, at the bottom, is the smaller bird. Like many people in Britain, Singapore, and Malaysia have already known, the Bluebirds’ home shirt is red. Perhaps with good results, it’s hoped that when they reach the Premier League, their nicknames would have changed to The Red Dragons.

Months ago the colour change seemed like an awful idea, especially since the Blackburn downfall showed how tragedy could befall reckless owners who take club ownership as a subsidiary which happens to be in England. Of course, if you look it from Venky’s perspective, there’s no tragedy. They are still the owners, the boards cannot think of anyone richer than them interested to buy the club, and Steve Kean is still the manager since the Indians cannot think of a British more yes-man than he is. For now.

Like Venky’s, Vincent Tan and Chan Tie Ghee want the best for the investments. That’s what do businessmen do (disclaimer: my stream in high school was Business and I was an average student). They know that Venky’s is doing something wrong. A team playing in blue-white color with red rose crest isn’t going to scare anyone, although they were the 1995 Premier League champions. If the bluebirds want to get into the Premier League, they have to channel the spirit of the red dragon. Instead Tan and Chan would ponder: “Why don’t the Welsh call for their ancestors’ guardian dragon? Instead sticking with some puny birds and black swans?”

The Desai siblings only enact Indian business perspective in handling Blackburn. Berjaya Group’s chairman Vincent Tan and Cardiff City chairman Chan Tien Ghee (what he did before is my guess as yours) apply the Chinese-Malaysian cultural perspective. Cardiff City’s drubbing by West Ham in the play offs have shown that blue shirt doesn’t work. If the fans want Cardiff to succeed, they have to have a better luck. Red, of course, is the lucky color. They must have consulted Malaysia’s leading feng shui experts who agree that Cardiff’s potential is hindered by their color of choice. Blue might work for Chelsea, but that’s because their crest features a standing lion which spits fire – a guardian spirit. And Chelsea’s crest has good amount of red icons. Hence the crest change. Successful businessmen Tan and Chan won’t let a club tradition stands in the way of Chinese tradition.

So, will Cardiff fail to reach the Premier League come May 2013? You bet. Fans are ready to boycott the game, the controversy will interfere with the players’ morale, Malky Mackay will wonder if next week is the week he’s summoned to Kuala Lumpur, and even as a Chinese I know that a good investment is not a red shirt with a dragon emblem, but better training, payroll, tactics, etc. But I don’t own McDonald’s Malaysia and I don’t have Mahatir Mohamed’s mobile number, so what do I know. What do Cardiff supporters know.

Asian ownership of English football clubs is viewed negatively by a good reason. Even the Americans still get the wrong idea that lack of trip to England, lack of in-depth knowledge of football (really, should businessmen know what they are investing on?), and the demand for instant results can ensure success for their property. Abramovich can finally get what he wants for two reasons – first, he has to stay in England since Russia is too hot for a Jewish “oligarch” like him. Second, he doesn’t saturate Chelsea with Russian sponsors. Even the Russians didn’t celebrate too hard when Chelsea won the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

Malaysian owners, like QPR’s Tony Fernandes and Tan & Chan, are closely connected to the government. That’s the only way to become a tycoon in Southeast Asia. They built their business through connections with the government party UMNO, with high times in 1980s and 1990s. Getting used to the patronage and favour systems, they handle all business like they do in Malaysia, including in owning an English club. Fernandes’ years of studying and working in England and the influence of his friend Richard Branson have made him understood the Western business culture and English football culture better than other tycoons, although he often gets away with tough questions such as Joey Barton and Neil Warnock with “I’m new with this. I have to ask the panel of experts.” At least it’s better than the East European approach – “I’m the boss and you’re not a real man.”

The Malaysian tycoons, however, don’t own all the money. They work for the government’s party, but they own big fortune since donation to political party is informally mandatory, not voluntary like in United States or United Kingdom. Middle Easterners who own Manchester City and Paris St. Germain, on the other hand, are the government – thus Abu Dhabi and Doha can buy players and fast-track success the way Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok can’t.

Last question: Why do Asian tycoons buy English clubs? Simply, English Premier League is the only football eague watched in much of Asia. With every passing year, most of Asia are decreasingly interested at La Liga or Serie A, with exceptions such as in Indonesia and Japan. No tycoon expects that by owning QPR, Leicester City, or Cardiff, they can “sell shirts in Asia”. That’s not their goal. Asians will always buy shirts of Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and it will take several more seasons before Manchester City shirts sell (which can be helped if they switch to Adidas or Nike). There’s also no way they will help a Malaysian, Indian, or Thai young prospect to grow in England (except if Cardiff enrolls Nick Chan. He’s the chairman’s son).

Their goals are first and foremost, pride. Abramovich was the pioneer and everyone wants to emulate him. Of course, they can’t be like the Arabs and their allowances only permit them to buy Championship and mid-bottom Premier League clubs. But that’s more than enough. They can put in Malaysian and Thai private and governmental brands on the shirt, behind the manager at press conference, and they can call their rival on Sunday night to discuss that Djibril Cisse’s act. We play fantasy football and FIFA. They own the real Kenny Miller, Kieron Dyer, and Kasper Schmeichel. Like we hope that the more we play the more we can trade Dyer for Gareth Bale, they want the real thing. So they can be either impatient when the club can’t reach Europa League spot after three seasons, or like in the case of Blackburn, stand up for the unpopular manager who defends them uncritically.

In conclusion, like everything else in their lives, the moguls want success. They want their clubs to become a household name in the Premier League. A surprise “giant killer” in the FA Cup (giant refers to the top four clubs). If the fans dislike their ways, then be it. In their eyes, as they are told since childhood, the public is like ignorant children who don’t know better.