Comment: ASEAN Super League, still more dream than reality

Former Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin has no doubts over the ASEAN Super League’s (ASL) potential and continues leading calls to get it running in September, but it remains a concept filled with uncertainties.

An ASL launch was expected to take place in Singapore this week, in conjunction with FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s visit to the Republic for a football summit.

Infantino’s presence would have given the ASL a massive boost, something the league is not quite getting from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

There is still a belief in some circles the ASL may remain a dream after years of speculation and uncertainty

Event companies were even approached to hold a launch on Tuesday, but nothing materialised and there is still a belief in some circles the ASL may remain a dream after years of speculation and uncertainty.

FourFourTwo understands an eight-month deadline set by the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) lapsed in October and talks about the ASL being on schedule for an inaugural edition in 2017 could be overly optimistic.

First conceptualised a decade ago, the ASL has suffered various setbacks in efforts to get going. It was discussed with AFC and FIFA several times, but still hasn’t received approval according to AFC general-secretary Windsor John in a recent interview with The New Paper.

The ASL has already secured partners such as Total Sports Asia, CT Sports and Catcha Group, but big question marks remain – who are the competing teams, how will it fit into the calendar and what can the ASL offer?

AFF general-secretary Datuk Seri Azzuddin Ahmad refused to comment on the ASL, directing all questions to Zainudin as the Singaporean was the spokesperson for the ASL. FourFourTwo’s efforts to contact Zainudin on Monday were unsuccessful. So we’ve posed some of our own ASL questions.

Which teams might compete?

Brunei DPMM, who currently compete in the S.League, voiced ther interest last week in joining the ASL, the first club to declare that publicly.

With the competition supposedly less than 12 months from commencing, that is a concern. The ASL taskforce was given eight months to come up with the details – including the identity of teams.

The owner of Malaysia Super League (MSL) winner Johor Darul Ta’zim, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, has previously voiced his reservations about the ASL, saying the AFC Champions League remains the region’s Holy Grail.

DPMM have expressed an interest in the ASL

It is difficult to comprehend why a team from the Thai Premier League – the strongest competition in the region – would consider playing in the ASL.

The situation could change, however, should the ASL offer Champions League or AFC Cup qualification, something that remains uncertain considering the AFC have yet to see any proposed details of the regional league, let alone approve them.

Should the ASL fail to offer a path to continental tournaments, it is likely to be seen as a rival to AFC competitions, something that wouldn’t go down well at AFC House.

The ASL could opt to attract lower teams, or even become an age-group league, but that will only mean failure for a league that was once hyped to attract the best players in the region.

Who can afford it?

Various reports in Singapore indicate teams are projected to need S$7 million (RM21.85million) to compete in the ASL. This includes a guarantee to the league and various operating costs.

The figure is close to what average MSL teams spend for all their teams – under-19 and under-21 included. MSL sides are among the biggest spenders in the region.

With financial woes a common problem in Southeast Asian football, especially Malaysia and Singapore, would teams be able to meet the financial requirements?

For the ASL to work, it will have to be lucrative. If a major title sponsor and broadcaster comes on board, with most of the funds channelled back to the competing teams, it could materialise.

Yet the ability to draw investors would depend on the quality of talent on the pitch. For that, the ASL must attract top teams.

Zainudin remains the driving force behind the competition

Will it be concurrent of domestic leagues or separate?

The position of ASL chief executive is currently being advertised and talk of a September kick-off persists despite the various question marks.

That potential start indicates the league would take place outside the domestic calendars, but there isn’t really much space available

That potential start indicates the league would take place outside the domestic calendars, but there isn’t really much space available.

The leagues in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore all end between October and December.

There have been calls to align all the domestic calendars in the region but there is the AFF Suzuki Cup and SEA Games on alternate years to consider too.

The Suzuki Cup takes place in November and December while the SEA Games varies according to the host nation.

Running the ASL concurrently with domestic leagues could be an alternative if the former intends to attract existing teams, but that once again boils down to what the new proposed league could offer in return.

Photos: FAS