Saturday, November 18, 2006

AFC Mess It Up Again

Few people, maybe even the eventual winner Hamad Al Montashari, have happy memories of the fiasco that was 2005 Asian Player of the Year award. The Asian Football Confederation certainly doesn't as it nominated ten players for the shortlist only to remove most of them when it became apparent that they would not be able to attend the awards ceremony – leaving the sheepish Saudi defender to hold the trophy.

After that debacle, it was reassuring to read the sentence below on the confederations official homepage regarding the 2006 version.

"The eligibility criteria for selecting the best player of Asia has undergone a major and scientific revision, and the winner will be chosen on the basis of a weighted ranking system which takes into account performances at AFC tournaments, and key UEFA and FIFA tournaments.

In a busy international year with Asian players involved in such FIFA and UEFA tournaments as the World Cup, Champions League and UEFA Cups as well as domestic leagues and the Asian Champions League, there were dozens of names to choose from. It must have been an unenviable task.

But the AFC did it.

The people that run Asian football have managed to make an even bigger mess than the one they created last year. At least in 2005 there was some logic to their decision, misguided and bizarre though it was, but the list released yesterday defies belief.

1) Badr Al Mutawa (Kuwait and Al Qadsiya)


2) Essa Al Mahiyani (Saudi Arabia and Al Wehda – Saudi)


3) Fahed Attal (Palestine)


4) Hawar Mulla Mohamed (Iraq and Apollon, Cyprus)


5) Ibraguim Rabimov (Tajikistan and Regar-Tadaz)


6) Ismael Matar (UAE and Al Wahda – UAE)


7) Khalfan Ibrahim (Qatar and Al Sadd)


8) Lionel Lewis (Singapore and Home United)


9) Mohamed Al Shlhoub (Saudi Arabia and Al Hilal)


10) Younis Mahmood (Iraq and Al Gharafa)


It should be pointed out that the nominees are all fine players but even the two Iraqis, two Saudi Arabians, one Tajikistani, one Qatari, one Kuwait, one Palestinian and the representatives from Singapore and UAE, must be wondering what is going on.

According to the AFC’s criteria, the nominees are decided partly on “key UEFA and FIFA tournaments”.

None of the players nominated have any experience at such tournaments (one Saudi nominee made the plane but not the pitch in Germany) but there are plenty of others who do. Plenty of Japanese, Koreans, Iranians and Australians who pitted themselves against the likes of Brazil, Italy, France and Portugal just five months ago but they have been mystifyingly ignored.

Perhaps the ten players nominated all achieved more than Tim Cahill who scored twice in Germany, cemented his place as one of the most accomplished midfielders in the Premier League and was nominated for the prize of European Footballer of the Year. If that is the case, the AFC needs to explain how.

Shunsuke Nakamura helped Celtic to a league title, scored at the World Cup and the Champions League but is apparently not worthy of a mention. Koreans in England such as Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon have performed in the Premier League and in Germany. Iran’s Javad Nekounam became the first Iranian to play in Spain and Andranik Teymourian followed his impressive World Cup with a move to the Premier League.

It seems that despite what the AFC says, performances at FIFA or UEFA tournaments had no bearing at all on the selection, as all the players just mentioned have more experience in such competitions that any of the ten nominated.

Perhaps the answer lies in the criteria that states “performances at AFC tournaments” – the biggest of which in 2006 was the Asian Champions League – to be a factor.

It is strange then that in a confederation where the semi-finalists of the competition make up the four-strong list for ‘team of the year’ that not one player from winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, even the star of the tournament Yeom Ki-hoon makes the list. The young winger recovered from a serious automobile accident to break into the national team and help drive Jeonbuk to the continental title but is absent as are any players from runners-up Al Karama.

Of all the Asian players who made it past the first round of the continental competition, only one, Kuwait’s Badr Al Mutawa, finds himself in the running.

If it isn’t performances at the World Cup, in Europe or the AFC Champions League which determine selection then perhaps it is performances at the domestic level.

It is surprising then that not one player from three of Asia’s strongest domestic leagues – the C, J and K - makes the list.

China’s Li Jinyu and Zheng Zhi excelled in Shandong Luneng’s romp to the title. In the J-League, Marcus Tulio Tanaka has been a rock for Urawa Reds and Ryuji Bando has been prolific for Gamba Osaka. In Korea, Lee Chun-soo scored once at the World Cup and six times in three games in the East Asian Champions Cup.

It is impossible to select all of these fine players mentioned but not to nominate a single one is another worrying misjudgement by the people in charge of Asian football, one to go with 2005 and the decision to select four co-hosts for the 2007 Asian Cup.

Using the AFC’s own criteria, many players not nominated have greater claim to the prize than many of those who are.

The Asian Football Confederation needs to explain the reasoning behind the decision if it is to salvage any of its fast disappearing credibility.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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