Their love is for Manchester United, really

James come from Manchester. "Just Like Fred Astaire" was a soundtrack of my high school romance.

James come from Manchester. “Just Like Fred Astaire” was a soundtrack of my high school romance.

Few days ago I was surprised to know that Quinton Fortune is now an assistant coach to Cardiff City U-21. Hmm…Ole Gunnar Solksjaer…Quinton Fortune…Cardiff City.

Then, Salford City, which plays in…um…Northern Premier League Division One North is half-bought (50% shares, you see) by Singaporean Peter Lim. So that’s why the other owners – Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and the Neville brothers (and yeah, Nicky Butt, he played for MU didn’t he?) were often spotted in Singapore in recent years. I thought they were just paying a visit to Paul Parker, who is now a Singaporean pundit.

I fell in love with Manchester United after borrowed Manchester United: The Double (often mistranslated by Asian pirates as Manchester United 2) in 1994. A serious bug (or deliberate design?) made Andy Cole always, always injured for 99 days even when benched. It is hectic as Sensible World of Soccer, but at least I could win the FA Cup and the EPL, unlike in Sensi.

Anyway, then Britpop came and I followed the EPL when everyone else in Indonesia was following Serie A (we always prefer Continental Europe than UK, unlike Malaysia-Singapore and Thailand). So there you go, from Giggs, the left midfielder in The Double, to Fortune, the sub midfielder in FIFA 2003 (I played Pro Evo Soccer/Winning Eleven since then, until returned to FIFA in 2009). Now they are working or partnering with a Southeast Asian Chinese.

Was Rio Ferdinand in MU back in FIFA 2003? Because he’s in Queens Park Rangers now. Well, he’s the only link between QPR and MU now. O yeah, there was Park Ji-sung.

Like Cardiff and Salford (and Valencia, probably), QPR is owned by a Southeast Asian. Not Chinese, but Indian. Tony Fernandes, perfectly the Southeast Asian version of Richard Branson (he was indeed a protege) operates Air Asia, Southeast Asia’s hippest airline (when my plane to Singapore was airborne, Girls’ Generation was played over the PA. I screamed in orgasm although sitting next to a Malay old man). He was also the Southeast Asian Donald Trump, being the boss of the regional version of The Apprentice. Actually there are more qualified of candidates here (being a nutty conservative/conspiracy theorist) but they are too camera shy.

You might remember that QPR sported the Malaysian Airlines logo in 2011-12 season. One year later, it changed to Fernandes’ own Air Asia. Coincidentally, in 2012 Cardiff City stole the headlines with the red dragon makeover. And theeen, Cardiff players were the one who wore the “Malaysia” word on their red shirts. Fernandes moved to Jakarta, to the heckles of who he described as “right wing bloggers”.

My Australian professors offered a wisdom – never, never believe rich Asians who said they were born poor. They were always born rich. Fernandes at least acknowledged his childhood of learning business from her mother’s Tupperware tea parties and his love for piano, while Tan’s family background is mysterious. All stories about him begins in 1985, when the 33-year old acquired the Sports Toto lottery from his good friend, then Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammed.

Peter Lim followed my professors’ rule by declaring that he is the son of a fishmonger…before saying that he’s an alumni of the Raffles Institution – Singapore’s most elite secondary school. In Australia, as an accounting student, he worked as a waiter, cook, and cab driver, although I’m not sure international students are permitted to become a taxi driver there. He built his fortune back in Singapore by becoming a real estate broker for Indonesian clients.

The second rule to be a Southeast Asian tycoon is to be close with the center of power, i.e. the ruling party. Australian and American tycoons can donate billions to the opposition party and criticize the government, but Malaysia and Singapore have not seen any change of government since their foundations. So Malaysian tycoons are friendly with the National Front coalition (the Chinese through Malaysian Chinese Association, the Indians through Malaysian Indian Congress), while Singaporean tycoons keep good relations with the People’s Action Party.

Make the movie. Make the movie. Make the movie.

Make the movie. Make the movie. Make the movie.

Peter Lim was known outside Singapore when he courted every club in Europe – Liverpool. Rangers. Valencia. Milan. Finally this year he settled with Valencia. Has he? Valencia did receive considerable coverage this year in Singapore, which is bit weird for a region that cares only about La Liga because of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The third rule applies to Singapore – no one is permitted to be a famous tycoon in Singapore. No one is permitted to be more famed than the Lee family who runs the government. Peter Lim is probably the first tycoon of the 21st century that many people outside Singapore have heard of, and it’s precisely because of the Liverpool proposal and the Valencia purchase.

So we have the abrupt switch from “Malaysia’ sponsorship from Fernandes’ QPR to Tan’s Cardiff, Manchester United Class of 92’s visits to Singapore, and the excitement of Valencia purchase. My guess is that Tan and Lim work for the government.

The real owners of Cardiff City and of Valencia (and Salford) are the Malaysian and Singaporean governments, respectively. Just like Manchester City is owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Paris St. Germain is owned by Qatar. They are not Glazer brothers or John Henry, who can contribute billions to American political parties but do not work on behalf of Washington.

Still, they are unhappy with what they have. Because their (the billionaires and the governments) main prize is Manchester United. So far they have to be content with faux-MU – Salford, red Cardiff City, Rio Ferdinand, and Valencia. Valencia? Yes, when they have got Mata back. Too bad about Solskjaer.

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A Southeast Asian explains the Cardiff situation

See all the ads behind? Except for Puma, all of these in Malaysia are His.

See all the ads behind? Except for Puma, all of these brands in Malaysia are His. Except the Visit Malaysia bit.

It’s 2014 and F Marinos win the Emperor’s Cup. Woohoo.

Well, 2013 ended in some sobering, bit pessimistic note for Asian football. Kagawa didn’t do well in Manchester United (he has not scored any goal in the league this season). Korea qualified – barely. Australia have no one to take over Cahill and Bresciano. And Southeast Asian football is sleeping. Yet, by the end of the year Japan defeated Belgium – both teams are now popular with hipsters, Son Heung-min is promising and Kim Bo-kyung and Ki Sung-yong had their 15 minutes of fame (they did cancel each other when Sunderland met Cardiff), and Australia…is optimistic as ever. Americans groaned at the World Cup draw. Australians grinned.

I regretted saying that Malky Mackay would be fired due to erratic judgment (i.e. perceived insubordination) instead of bad results. Last season, when Cardiff was still in the Championship, I made the analogy based on the case of Steve Kean (who resigned on September 2012). Turned out the same thing happened with Mackay, even when Cardiff was not on the serious danger of relegation (consider what happened to QPR last season. Harry Redknapp is still coaching them).

So, Cardiff and QPR are both owned by Malaysian tycoons. One Chinese, the other Indian. Football fans outside Asia talk about Vincent Tan on weekly basis, while Southeast Asians are more familiar with Tony Fernandes and his delightful airline deals. The way Tan and Fernandes manage their image in UK are same with the way they manage their business in Malaysia.

Like in any other Southeast Asian country, the economy in Malaysia is run by the patronage system. The Malay elites, many of them aristocrats, look after Chinese and Indian businessmen. After a big anti-Chinese riot in 1969, a half-Indian half-Malaysian MP called Mahatir Mohammed argued for affirmative action for Malays, who he saw as victims to British classical colonialism and Chinese economical colonialism. A non aristocrat, he was seen as an outsider. But he became the Prime Minister a decade later and like other governments in Southeast Asia, pushed for privatization and entrance of American and Japanese franchises.

“Vincent” Tan Chee Yioun was a young businessman with right friends – Mahatir’s nephew and brother in law. Starting from car trade deals and access to company boards, his big break came in 1985 when the government permitted sports lottery (betting) for non-Muslims.Tan got Sports Toto without any tender (auction and proposal from competing bidders) process. This video is a portfolio of Tan’s holdings in Malaysia, which includes Wendy’s and 7-Eleven. As an Asian, I’m horrified with this North Korean style Glee. But it’s normal in parts of Asia.

Tony Fernandes, on the other hand, presented a more British image. A protege of Richard Branson, he worked in the music industry in Britain and Malaysia (including Virgin and Warner) before buying AirAsia and turned it into Asia’s first successful budget airline in the image of Virgin airways (attractive and casual stewardess, hip and youthful ads, ala carte flight amenities). Fernandes is not a taipan in the fashion of Tan, but like every other rich guy in Malaysia, he has to have good relationship with the government – the Barisan National coalition and its core, the UMNO Malay supremacist party.

John Duerden went to Malaysia to talk with football people about Tan. He found English coaches who said Malaysian football bosses are all like Tan, Malay ministers who said he’s alright, and Malay journalists who said they just relayed stories from UK instead of writing their own.

So where’s the Chinese Malaysian voice in this story? First, Malaysian football is like that – the clubs are owned by state governments or government bodies. Most of the domestic players are Malays, with some Indians and very few Chinese thrown in (Arabs by default are seen as Malays or Muslim Indians). Urban Malaysians have little interest in domestic football and Chinese Malaysians certainly watch Barcelona and Manchester…City..United? instead of Selangor. The best teams in Malaysia are from eastern and northeastern states with big Malay population, anyway.

In short, Tan’s cake in Malaysia is Wendys – his football business has to be outside Malaysia. His ambition in owning Cardiff is to make profit, while hoping that some Malaysians and Singaporeans would support it like some Asians support Tottenham, Manchester City, or Everton. More importantly, the Malaysian government needs him to fund the BIG ad which you can find on a red Cardiff shirt. So Tan gets the money and the Malaysian government gets the pride. Nevermind the boos from Bluebirds fans, as they don’t get reported in Malaysia. First the newspapers still need 7-11 ads. Second, Malaysians really cannot care about Cardiff the way they cannot care about QPR.

Along the way, of course, Tan’s big ego causes him greater exposure than he wants in Britain (Cardiff, of course, is a Welsh team). He could just let Mackay got the applause. But that’s the way he (and other tycoons) lives in Malaysia – he has to become God just like Kim Jong-un and the other dead Kims. If you could stomach the video above, you could see that he’s so used to hear other people saying they cannot live without him. I really cannot believe he expected the Cardiff supporters to cheer him – did Mancunians ever cheer for the emirs or the Glazers? Did Chelsea supporters ever say thank you to Abramovich? No, and the owner needs no thank – it’s the players, the manager, and the staff who need to be thanked.

So I guess what’s wrong with Vincent Tan is that he has this dream that Cardiff has to be like Kuala Lumpur. His part of Kuala Lumpur (not UMNO’s) where staff bow down to him. There have been comparisons between him and Carson Yeung, and as a Chinese I wonder if they are both awful like that because they are both Chinese tycoons. Little emperors of China who think they own the world. While in Hong Kong and Malaysia there are a dozen more like them. Again, I believe the decision to buy Cardiff City does not come only from Tan who wants profit, but also from the Malaysian government who wants advertisement and prestige (just like Qatar with Barcelona and Azerbaijan with Atletico Madrid). Asian. Football. Bloody hell.

There you have it folks. I believe some Malaysians take Vincent Tan as a shame of the nation, but most Malaysians, or any other Asians, don’t care. There are dozens like him in the region, Cardiff is not a big team, and no matter how much Malay elites privately despise Chinese – let alone a tycoon – they do not say anything bad about him. After all, he’s doing his job for the country (not).

Phew, all this writing saved me the pain of watching Kagawa playing terribly. He really has lost it.

UPDATE: Turns out Tan owns Kedah FA and also changes its color to red. If blue was the color chosen by Cardiff City more than a century ago, then green and yellow reflects Kedah’s strongly Islamic heritage. And mind bogglingly, it can be changed into the very Chinese red. More interestingly, the chairman of Kedah FA (playing in second tier Malaysian Premier League) is the son of Mahatir.

The Header Picture Post

Look at the small picture to your left. What do you see? People – Asians – sitting on football skinned bean bag chairs. Clever, eh? I decided on the image when browsing for pictures of Asians enjoying football or something like that. It comes from a Christian Science Monitor story asking a big question after Japan 3 Denmark 1 in 2010 World Cup: Africans are enthusiastically supporting all African teams. Why can’t Asians support Asian teams? 0628-OASIANOT-asian-solidarity-soccer_full_600

That summer I joined Guardian Football’s Fan Network, where supporters of the 32 teams duked it out on Twitter. Three Asians joined. I, a Chinese-Indonesian who supported Republic of Korea. An Indian woman who supported England. And an Indian man who supported Germany. There were five supporters of Japan, all British blokes. Two other supporters of Korea, two British blokes. And a supporter of North Korea, an aging British bloke. And oh, Aussies who supported Australia. Supporters of African nations outside South Africa (all white South Africans) were African students in Britain.

So, maybe it’s just no Korean or Japanese student read Guardian Football. During the Japan v Denmark match, an infuriated Indonesian felt that the MBM’s host was belittling Japan. I wanted to ask him to chill, but I was busy following tweet feeds and tweeting on the match, plus I thought somebody did need to stand up for Japan – I warned indirectly a Brazilian who kept saying that Japanese matches were ‘boring and (were) the worst.’

My experiences were in accordance to the CSM article, that said that Africans – plagued in recent times by the largest and most brutal proxy wars after the end of Cold War – believed in a thing called pan-Africanism. They see African nations standing together against more favored South American and European rivals. Whatever the language and religion, the feeling of African unity was more than Coca-Cola marketing ploy.

On the other hand, Koreans and Chinese like to see Japan go down. Some Australians put great interest and respect on Japanese football, but many still believe that the default tactic against Japan is to ‘use long balls and force corners’. The Chinese and Arabs have been applauding Australia’s downfall ever since 2006. I was invited to a football-theme party right after the final, and so I wore a Korean shirt. Many people were bemused and asking why I didn’t wear red and yellow Spanish color. My answer was “I don’t support Spain. South Korea is my team”. Nor they did, but Spain were the champions.

The guy in the center wears a Spanish replica jersey. The picture was taken in Beijing during the 2010 World Cup. It’s taken inside a shopping mall and men and women in the picture had their attentions fixed on several different things – kids, smartphones, the ceiling. Most Asians supported Spain, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, England, and Netherlands during the tournament. Because they had famous players, because they won often, because they were big. Some hip people went for Japan (still respected in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, partly thanks to Captain Tsubasa and PES) or Ghana. But no one supported Korea outside Korean expats (and me. And I had not enough guts to visit a Korean BBQ joint during the match day. I’m not an English blogger, you know). Some weirdos rooted for North Korea because it’s a ‘cool country’ (and many South Koreans did, of course) but they couldn’t name a player (I could name half the team who play in J-League & Europe).

Indonesian pundits are also very ignorant of Indonesia’s football rivals. Who’s number 10 for Thailand? Euh, “A Thai player”. And number 4 for Hong Kong? “Hong Kong player”. All they needed was a team sheet and trying to spot the number, in case the name is not printed on the shirt. But never mind Ampaipitakwong (the Texan has decided to represent Thailand), they were too lazy to say Mohd Amri Yahyah. It’s the ‘why should I bother humanizing a foreigner?’ mindset. All rivals are supposed to lay down and die for Irfan Bachdim, Andik Vermansyah, and Boaz Solossa.

Therefore, the idea for a Southeast Asian super league is not feasible. Never mind Indonesia, I was surprised to know that Thailand has the only functional league in Southeast Asia. Vietnam – No money. Singapore – nobody sees. Philippines – amateurish. Indonesia – two rival leagues who agree to come clean next year so let’s hope so. Reuters did say about match fixing in Malaysia but I couldn’t find any article on that.

Selangor vs Tampines! Booya! I'm so watching this! But Fox said "Scheduled program preempted. Sorry"!

Selangor vs Tampines! Booya! I’m so watching this! But Fox said “Scheduled program preempted. Sorry”!

And so Thailand is the only association playing the Champions League and they hold themselves well, compared to past performances of Singaporean and Indonesian clubs (okay, I was talking about Buriram). Semen Padang have been so good in the AFC Cup, and oh, about Persibo Bojonegoro. They were in the tournament after winning the Indonesian Cup, but the financial troubles and low morale persisted. And so, when they went to Tsing Yi to face Sun Hei with 12 players, that’s really everyone they had.

8-0 for Sun Hei and match abandoned after 65 minutes after Persibo players literally rolled over and died (well, not died). Reactions from both sides illustrated the disconnection of Asia. Sun Hei’s coach said “We know that Indonesians are dirty at sports, but this is a new low.” Persibo’s fans said the match was fixed since “The Hong Kong side were supposedly much weaker than Persibo,” (yeah? How do you know? Because they are Chinese from Hong Kong they are not supposed to know how to play football, you think?)

And then, this month two Malaysian owners of British clubs made headlines for different reasons. Vincent Tan’s Cardiff City go up, with still mixed feelings from both fans and the press, while Tony Fernandes’ QPR go down, and many say that they’ll find life in the Championship will not be easy. A terrible finale for Park Ji-sung’s career. And I agree with those who say that QPR is not a diversification – it’s a very expensive promotion vehicle for Air Asia. So, Malaysians have the money but they don’t use it for home renovation (with respect, Malaysia and Malaysia U23 have shown some passion, but well, the state of the league), and same goes for the Qataris and Emirates.

Nice plane.

Nice plane.

And so the header picture is about how Asia treats football. A commodity to watch and buy, not to play and develop. Except in Australia, Japan, and Korea.

Dreams and Realities

SY couldn't contain his joy.

SY couldn’t contain his joy.

Ah January. The snow is…piling. Great time to return to the pitch to play some football.

December was pretty a bummer time to watch football. There were only several things around – the FIFA Club World Cup, final stages of Japan’s Emperor’s Cup, a couple of football matches every week during the Christmas holiday, the A-League…that’s all. But comes January, and you have great football playing in Germany and Netherlands, not to mention the unofficial Indonesian league. Yippie, football returns!

And the (English) transfer window news has been characteristically silent, since it’s not 31st January yet. I heard that Japanese tabloids were excited about Keisuke Honda moving to Liverpool or La Liga or Serie A. I’m still conflicted by the moral question of it is ethical to wish that by 1st February he wears a red Warrior shirt.

The biggest problem is, suddenly England seems not to be a great place for East Asian players anymore. And yeah, that’s because of Kagawa factor. He’s not under the scrutiny of Red Devils fans in the way that de Gea, Valencia, Nani, or even Young does. But his return in December did not mean that he’s become Diet Rooney. He passed and created chances, but I think it’s fair to ask him to score goals. Seeing how it’s fashionable especially in the last decade to make fun of English defenders, I’m wondering what makes mid-table English defenders and holding midfielders seem to be tougher than the supposedly bigger German defenders who Kagawa outwitted in the last season.

Are EPL defenders are simply not English? Are they faster, smarter, quicker and more disciplined? Are the goalkeepers swifter and have better reactions? After several occasions starting behind van Persie or manning the wing, tonight he returns to the bench. So does van Persie, but certainly, he is still an expendable player.

My worry about Kagawa is influenced by three Koreans. First is Ki Sung-yong/Sung-yueng. He fits in as Swansea’s center and saw them into the League Cup Final. But yeah, he’s too slow. Both Ki and Kagawa make great passes and you can see them trying hard to avoid mistakes. But here – when it comes to Team Korea and Team Japan, who will score? Who will penetrate the box and leave the defenders behind?

The second Korean is Park Ji-sung. He also returned in December and as you can see tonight, QPR is also in deep crisis. And throughout this season he’s been a disappointment as an EPL veteran, it’s an uproar that cable channel Arirang put him as one of 2012 Newsmakers just so they could put in Park Jong-woo (Korean footballer who should be mentioned, of course, was Jung Sung-ryong).

Third Korean is Ji Dong-won. He’s quit England and is now helping Augsburg in Germany trying to avoid relegation, playing with Koo Ja-cheol. The hero of Asian Cup and Olympics failed to fit in England.

And the Japanese is Ryo Miyaichi. Heck, even one can also put in Tadanari Lee.

Compared to them, Shinji Kagawa still makes it in England. And now ironically so does Maya Yoshida. But as I’m watching various Japanese players in Bundesliga and Eredivisie, I’m less optimistic that they could play in England, and wondering if Germany is the best spot they could achieve. Actually the most promising one is Takashi Inui. With his five goals for Frankfurt, now the supposedly plucky team are fighting for a 2013-14 UCL spot. Hajime Hosogai is also okay at Leverkusen, although he’s also cannot compete in the EPL at this level.

2013 is already marked with an irony – the supposed setting of J. League is countered with the abundance of Japanese players in Bundesliga (Kim Bo-kyung, one of the best midfielders in English Championship, is also a J. League graduate), while the supposed rise of Chinese Super League still doesn’t mean anything for Chinese footballers. It even doesn’t mean anything for both Drogba and Anelka.

2012 in Asian Football

I want love in a peaceful world.

I want love in a peaceful world.

January

  • The earliest (and latest) cup in global football is lifted every 1st January in Japan. FC Tokyo win the 201..1 Emperor’s Cup by defeating Kyoto Sanga FC 4-2. Second Division FC Tokyo win a spot in the 2012 AFC Champions League.
  • Tim Cahill ends his goal drought after 34 matches (he passed 2011 without any goal, including in Asian Cup) by scoring for Everton against Blackburn Rovers. The match ends 1-1.
  • Arsenal teenage winger Ryo Miyaichi is loaned to Bolton.

February

  • Adelaide United and Pohang Steelers qualify to 2012 AFC Champions League by defeating two Southeast Asian hopefuls – Persipura of Indonesia and Chonburi of Thailand. Buriram of Thailand is the sole SE Asian representative in the ACL. With SE Asian federations underperforming or in legal problems, Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan fill a spot in the East Asian division.
  • Shinji Okazaki scores with a bicycle kick for Stuttgart against Hannover 96.
  • China end hope to qualify to Brazil 2014 despite defeating Jordan 3-1 at home. Its doom had been pronounced in Autumn 2011 thanks to back to back defeats against Iraq and Jordan. The Economist‘s Christmas 2011 edition runs special article on why Chinese football sucks.
  • On the other hand, Asian champions Japan qualify as runner ups without able to defeat Uzbekistan and lost the away match in North Korea, where coach Al Zaccheroni complains that the custom seizes his soy sauce.
  • Still on road to Brazil: demoralized Indonesia are torn apart 0-10 by Bahrain. Bahrain, however, fail to qualify as rival Qatar fight to the end to hold Iran 2-2 and pass the group undefeated. While Indonesia field players only from the official Premier League (leaving veterans playing in the Super League), Bahrain also ban Shiite players from the team.

March

  • North Korea qualify automatically to 2015 AFC Asian Cup after defeating other minnows such as Philippines, Tajikistan, India, and Turkmenistan. At that time NK are ranked 15th in Asia, far above non-Challenge Cup participants such as UAE and Thailand.
  • Woeful year for Japanese powerhouse Gamba Osaka begins as they go down in the ACL to Pohang Steelers 0-3 and to Adelaide United 0-2.
  • Australia end its quest for Olympics gold finishing bottom of Group B without scoring any goal and ended four matches 0-0. The Matildas had failed to qualify in 2011 after falling one point short below North Korea. The duel between Japan and Korea U-23 in London is anticipated.

April

  • Brisbane win the A-League Grand Final due to 90+7th minute penalty kick by Albanian Besart Berisha into Perth Glory’s goal. Man of the match award for Perth’s Jacob Burns is for a while incorrectly awarded to Brisbane winger Thomas Broich.
  • Japan and Korea begin their 2012 league season in the familiar manners – taking in Australians and few Japanese players for the Asian Player spot in Korea, and taking in Koreans and few Australians for the AP spot in Japan – along with South and North Koreans who were born in Japan. Both leagues also use Brazilian players extensively and are still reluctant to draw big names from Europe.
  • No such qualm in China, where Nicolas Anelka, fresh from enjoying a late summer period in Chelsea, moved to Shanghai. In February he scored 40 seconds in the friendly against Hunan. In April the club is in crisis and he becomes player-manager.
  • Meanwhile, Guangzhou Evergrande ace the ACL group stage by defeating ex-champions Jeonbuk Hyundai 5-1 and Kashiwa Reysol 3-1. Except for Gao Lin, however, all the goalscorers are South Americans Cleo, Muriqui, and Dario Conca. Still, credit for their defense team.

May

  • Shinji Kagawa completes his glory in Germany by scoring against Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal final. He scores 13 goals in Bundesliga, 3 in DFB Pokal, and 1 in the Champions League – against Arsenal.
  • Kagawa’s rival Keisuke Honda scores consolation goal against Rubin Kazan. After missing much of the season to injury, Honda fails to help CSKA to qualify for the Champions League as rival Spartak take them over with two points.
  • Tim Cahill ends his career in Everton with a sour note after being sent off for fighting with Yohan Cabaye, who pushed an Everton ball boy.
  • Internazionale signs a loaned player from Cesena, Yuto Nagatomo. Smaller than average (compared to other Japanese players) Nagatomo becomes the most successful player in Serie A in the last five years. He is also the first Japanese player to play in the city of Milan.
  • J. League lose all representatives in the ACL with Nagoya, Kashiwa, and Tokyo all shot down. K-League also only spare Ulsan Hyundai alive, while Guangzhou and Adelaide United stay on course.

June

  • Keisuke Honda returns to Samurai Blue with the goal against Oman and hattrick against Jordan.
  • Big moves for Asian players – Kagawa to Manchester United (where porn star Ameri Ichinose is mistakenly identified as his girlfriend), Hiroshi Kiyotake to Nuremberg, Kim Bo-kyung to Cardiff City, Ki Sung-yueng to Swansea, Maya Yoshida to Southampton, and Eiji Kawashima to Standard Liege.
  • The transfer headline is on Didier Drogba. Fresh after taking Chelsea to become the kings of Europe, money and Anelka lure him to Shanghai. The French star fights with a fan after he refuses to follow the customary bow toward Shanghai’s supporters.

July

  • Controversy in Cardiff after its Malaysian owners change the crest and the home shirt color to conform more with feng shui – from blue and Blue Birds into red and the Welsh red dragon.
  • Another Malaysian-owned team, Queens Park Rangers, also looks forward for a better EPL season. They sign Park Ji-sung (Korea) from Manchester United, Julio Cesar (Brazil) from Internazionale, and Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand) and Junior Hoillet (Canada) from Blackburn Rovers, distinctively becoming probably the only team in the world with players from all confederations. The shirt sponsor is changed from Malaysia Airlines to owner Tony Fernandes’ own Air Asia.
  • Unfortunately, by the end of this year Asians who love Air Asia for their travels are too embarrassed to wear the jersey.
  • More than they wear the MU’s red tartan jersey.
  • Korea and Japan pass Olympics’ group stage in minimalist manners – Korea with 2-1 victory over Switzerland and 0-0s against Gabon and Mexico, while Japan steal headline after defeating gold medal favorite Spain 1-0. The rest is unconvincing – 1-0 to Honduras and 0-0 to Morocco. The women team also draw 0-0 with Sweden and Africa after defeating Canada 2-1.
  • Swiss player Michel Morganella is sent home after sending racist tweets against Koreans. North Korea is also angry as organizer shows their future flag of Taegeukgi in the match against Colombia. Heck, even they complained that there was the flag of Korea in the stadium along with the flag of Cameroon and Sweden. Are they Koreans or not?

August

  • Shinji Kagawa scores his first goal for Manchester United past Asia’s best goalkeeper – Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer.
  • Anelka and Drogba’s partnership in Shanghai result in astonishing 3-3 draw with Shandong Luneng.
  • Arsenal loans number nine forward Park Chu-young to Celta Vigo, sparing him the horror of wearing number 30 after 9 is given to Lukas Podolski.
  • Nadeshiko Japan defeat favorite Brazil 2-0 and France 2-1. Unfortunately they go down to United States 1-2 and get silver medal. Turbine Postdam’s Yuki Ogimi scores three goals.
  • Project Team Great Britain go down in typical English manner – lose penalty shootout in the quarter finals, this time to Korea. Chelsea’s Dean Sturridge fails to score while Korea put five past Jack Butland.
  • Korea win the bronze medal after Park Chu-young and Koo Ja-cheol score against Japan. Defender Park Jong-woo sport a banner written “Dokdo is Ours!” after the match, winning critics outside Korea and praises from Koreans. Since then Korean TVs have gone too hard in putting Dokdo in every context and criticizing celebrities who refuse to join the chorus, especially those who are being popular in Japan.

September

  • Both Korea and Australia are in crisis mode for their World Cup qualification as Uzbekistan hold Korea and Australia’s defeat to Jordan condemn them to zero win from three matches.
  • Park Chu-young becomes the first Korean to score in La Liga against Getafe. Lee Chun-soo was the last Korean to play in La Liga a decade ago.
  • Korean Army team Sangju Sangmu Phoenix walk out from the Relegation round of K-League after AFC requires professional contracts for players in every club. The club serves as a host for players serving their military draft. Even without the drama, SSP are already relegated. Recently some other players prefer to join the Korean Police FC for their national service.
  • The Championship round in K-League is switched from playoff rounds between the top six (Australian style) to the mini league involving top eight teams (Russian style).
  • Both Guangzhou and Adelaide fail their first tests against West Asian teams. Ulsan pass through favorite Al-Hilal 5-0.
  • Consadole Sapporo secure relegation from J-League Division 1 with two months to go.

October

  • Keisuke Honda scores his fifth goal from eleven Russian Premier League matches. He failed to move to Lazio, probably for the better. He might be play in Liverpool next month.
  • Alessandro del Piero moves to Sydney FC, while Western Sydney Wanderers recruit Shinji Ono. Sydney also sign Chinese-Panaman Yairo Yau.
  • Shinji Kagawa provides his second assist in the Champions League and then twists his knee. The injury lasts for two months.
  • For second year in the row, a Hyundai-owned team is in the ACL final after Ulsan defeat glamour-less Bunyodkor. The national team of Uzbekistan keep their hope alive by defeating Qatar 1-0. Korea end 2012 in sour note with 0-1 defeat to Iran.
  • S-League authority announces that in 2013, the team that finishes last will have to pay heavy fine for being a loser, continuing the fine tradition of the fine city.

November

  • A drop of Asian players’ presence in the English Premier League with Kagawa injured, and so does Park Ji-sung, and Southampton’s Tadanari Lee and Sunderland’s Ji Dong-won nowhere in sight. Maya Yoshida passes every match day painfully with Southampton. In Bundesliga, on the other hand, Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, Shinji Okazaki, Hiroshi Kiyotake, and Takashi Inui provide goals and assists now and then.
  • Korea recovers the AFC Champions League trophy as Ulsan defeat Al-Ahli 3-0. Japan defeat Oman 2-1 and need to wait for March 2013 to defeat Jordan to secure a ticket to Brazil 14.
  • Hiroshima win J-League title, breaking the hearts of Sendai. Hisato Sato hopes that he can return to the national team. Al Z’s favorite Ryoichi Maeda continues his Maeda’s Curse by condemning Gamba Osaka to the Second Division, ironically despite Gamba’s 67 goals for compared to Hiroshima’s 63. Gamba’s best hope is to flourish in Division 2 in 2013 and return in 2014.
  • Ian Crook resigns from Sydney FC management. Club’s and fans’ expectation for del Piero is cited as the main reason. Sydney languish at the bottom while uglier sister Western Sydney are in the top four.

December

  • Substitute Brian Ching fails to save Houston Dynamo in the 2012 MLS Cup, a fitting farewell for David Beckham. American soccer is still waiting for its Jeremy Lin.
  • FC Seoul win the 2012 K-League, with Colombian Mauricio Molina providing 18 goals and 19 assists.
  • Australia qualify for 2013 East Asia Football Federation Championship by destroying Taiwan 8-0, scoring five goals in 30 minutes. They win aggregate goals against North Korea.
  • Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore field teams composed of naturalized players in the ASEAN Football Federation Cup. Indonesia lose to Malaysia 0-2 and draw with Laos 1-1, and Indonesian fans treat the news apathetically.
  • FIFA extends its deadline for Indonesian FA to settle its internal dispute for three months, Sepp Blatter gleefully says that he’s giving a holiday gift to Indonesia.
  • The resurgence of Thai football is annulled by Singapore, whose 30+ years old foreigners help the Lions to win the AFF Cup. Singapore’s best players, however, are Shahril Ishkak and Khairul Amri. Both of them play for Singapore LionsXII, a guest team in the Malaysian Super League (and the runner ups of the 2012 season).
  • Ulsan Hyundai become the first Asian team to fail to qualify to FIFA Club World Cup Semi Finals after lost 1-3 to Monterrey. In the fifth place match against Hiroshima, Hisato Sato proves that he’s the better striker than Lee Keun-ho and Kim Shin-wook.
  • Shinji Kagawa win AFC’s first ever “International Player” award, effectively the award for the best Asian player in the world. His competitors are forty years old Mark Schwarzer and Yuto Nagatomo. In Asia, the best player is Lee Keun-ho, and below him are Ali Karimi and Zheng Zhi.
Happy Holidays everyone. Thank you for reading.

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.