|Hideo Hashimoto (L) takes on Adelaide United's Cassio|
in the 2008 AFC Champions League Final
It’s almost kick off time for another edition of the AFC Champions League, and that can only mean one thing – the ready-made excuses will start coming thick and fast from Australian fans, media and occasionally, even A-League clubs themselves.
“Cashed up” “heavyweights” “endless resources”, they’re all claims we’ve heard before and for the most part they have no basis.
It would be a wrong to completely ignore the fact that J.League, K-League and CSL clubs do have more money at their disposal, but to use it as justification or an excuse for why their clubs have success over A-League sides masks the real disparity between the nations.
That comes at a more basic youth development level.
Take Gamba Osaka for example, three of their starting XI in the first leg of the 2008 ACL Final, as well as Takumi Shimohira who came off the bench, are products of the Gamba Osaka youth system.
Two of those players, Takahiro Futagawa and Hideo Hashimoto, as well as Shimohira, are still with the club, while Michihiro Yasuda left during the January transfer window for Vitesse Arnhem in
The latest off the production line, Takashi Usami, is rated as the best player to come through the Gamba Osaka youth system and already has Bayern Munich interested in him. All this for a kid who is only 18 years old.
Sydney’s J.League opponents this year, Kashima Antlers, are in a similar boat with two of their starting XI from the weekend’s Super Cup coming through the Kashima youth system, while another handful were plucked from straight High School and have spent their entire careers with Ibaraki-based club.
It is these youth systems that currently set
Japan, in particular, apart from . Australia
Any new side that wishes to enter the J.League, be it in J1 or J2, must have an U18, U15 and U12 team to compliment their senior team.
Not only does this ensure a strong connection with their local community, something that has been critical in seeing crowds rise over the last decade, it also allows the clubs to work with their best local talent from an early age.
Doing so gets them into the “system” and by the time they are in their late teens many are ready to take the step up to senior team action.
Compare that to the A-League where it is left to local clubs with part-time coaches to nurture our best talent until they reach an age where they are eligible for the National Youth League. Even then there is often a large disconnect between the NYL side and A-League side.
This year’s ACL has yet to kick off and already the same excuses are being bandied about.
Grantley Bernard, writing in the Herald Sun on Saturday, got the ball rolling when he wrote, "... (that's) all part of the test against big Asian teams that have unlimited resources and money while the A-League teams in the Champions League remain restricted by the salary cap and squad sizes."
It is lazy an innacurate to focus purely on the monetary aspect and it serves Australia no good as it looks to gain more respect within The AFC. It's the old Aussie arrogance rearing its ugly head again - it's not that they're better than us, it's just they have more money!
Instead of focusing on that one aspect, fans, media and clubs would be better served by actually learning a few lessons from a league that has been there and done that when it comes to setting up a new league and new teams.
They may just be surprised by what they find.