'Game 39' back on after Asia agree deal

TOKYO - The English Premier League's controversial proposal to play an extra game each season abroad has received cautious backing from Asia.

The continent's football chief, Mohamed Bin Hammam, had been one of the most vociferous opponents of the idea of a 39th, international round of English top-flight games when it was first floated in February.

However, Hammam on Friday announced a coaching and development tie-up with the Premier League which could pave the way for games to be played in his giant territory.

"Before we communicated directly there was a lot of misunderstanding," Hammam told selected journalists in Tokyo. "We wondered if they were just going to collect money and go.

"That was unacceptable to us but we only heard they were coming to play. That's where the confusion started. After we met we asked what kind of legacy they were going to leave behind.

"I will be very positive to this initiative if it arrives in the future now we know there will be benefits for Asia. It wasn't just an invasion."

Hammam was flanked by Premier League boss Richard Scudamore, the project's architect, who has led a charm offensive since his idea was quickly shot down in flames.

"There was supposed to be a consultation process," said Scudamore, whose plan was also criticised by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA chief Michel Platini.

MEDIA FRENZY

"It turned into a media frenzy. We were almost put back into our box at birth such was the excitement generated.

"All we did was go to our shareholders, the 20 clubs in the Premier League and had a meeting where the clubs agreed to spend one year exploring the possibility of playing a game abroad."

Scudamore added: "Nobody believed it was just an idea to be consulted on. The way the media wrote it was that our clubs were on the plane and landing in a city near you within weeks."

A 39th game is unlikely to happen for at least another two years but Scudamore got the ball rolling by outlining plans to help with coaching and technical support in Asia.

"You say it with a twinkle in your eye that you didn't realise what the Premier League were already doing in Asia," he said looking at Hammam.

"It's not new. We have been here for a number of years working on various projects. Clubs have been coming to Asia for a long time."

As an extra carrot for Asia to host future games on their soil, Scudamore also announced a scheme to twin Premier League clubs with teams competing in the region's Champions League.

"This exchange will take place at administrative level, at technical level and also directly club to club through twinning of teams," he said.

"It's about using the power of football to make clubs community assets, for education purposes, social inclusion purposes and development purposes."