A year of impressive progress in Asian soccer on the field, including two semi-final berths at the London Olympics, has been overshadowed by yet more corruption and political infighting off the field.
The Asian soccer headlines this year were dominated by Mohamed bin Hammam. The Qatari, who took the post of Asian Football Confederatioin president in 2002, was found guilty of vote-buying during his challenge against FIFA president Sepp Blatter last year and FIFA’s Ethics Committee suspended him from all soccer activity for life.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that ban in July, but bin Hammam, 63, was then put under provisional bans by both FIFA and AFC as those bodies investigated allegations of financial irregularities during his nine-year tenure. On Dec. 17, he resigned from soccer and was banned for life by FIFA.
“It has been damaging for Asian football,” AFC vice president Yousef al-Serkal told reporters.
“It is has been unfortunate that something like that happened to the AFC at a time when we are trying to develop and improve the standard of football and that depends on the image and sponsorships of the AFC,” al-Serkal said.
“Such a reputation when it is the concerning the president of the AFC will affect the image negatively. Normally, as we know, big companies as sponsors avoid to be partners with any organization that has such a reputation,” he added.
In an interview last month, bin Hammam still protested his innocence and blamed outside forces.
“The AFC is no longer its own master,” bin Hammam said. “It is now controlled partly by FIFA and partly by the Olympic Council of Asia [OCA]. These people [at the AFC] believe that FIFA and the OCA are going to either put them in a more powerful position or consolidate their current position.”
On the field, the biggest story of the year was in China, where Shanghai Shenhua made a splash in the transfer market by signing former Chelsea strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
The initial excitement was soon overtaken by gloom as the club performed poorly in the Chinese Super League amid constant speculation that the pair would soon return to Europe as a result of a power struggle at the club. As the year nears its end, it is still widely expected that Anelka will leave and Drogba could follow.
Champion Guangzhou Evergrande started China’s big spending wave last year and restated their ambitions in mid-season by hiring 2006 World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi.
Philippe Troussier, who led Japan to the second round at the 2002 World Cup, now leads a team in China’s second division and believes that signing big-name stars is not the only way for success.
“It’s a good thing if the successful clubs use this situation to develop Chinese football in terms of youth development and education of coaches,” the Frenchman said. “At the moment, China has no choice and need to import foreign expertise. It is behind nations like [South] Korea and Japan and not ahead of others such as Qatar, UAE [United Arab Emirates] and Bahrain.”
While China still struggles to produce players to export to Europe, the trade in Japanese and South Korean players continues to rise.
One of the biggest transfers of the year saw Japan international Shinji Kagawa leave German champion Borussia Dortmund to sign for Manchester United in June.
In July, South Korea’s Park Ji-sung left United after seven seasons to join big-spending, but poorly-performing Queens Park Rangers.