Should Australia's Champions League teams have capitalised on the Asian import rule?
Last week, defending A-League champions Sydney FC and fellow Australian club Melbourne Victory announced their 26-man squads for the 2018 AFC Champions League campaign, which kicked-off this week.
Capable in defence and always happy to bomb forward, Davies could have proven a useful option for either Australian club
Both clubs are set for a tough time in their groups with Sydney facing Chinese powerhouses Shanghai Shenhua, Japan’s Kashima Antlers and South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings, while Victory’s 2018 ACL campaign will see them face Japanese outfit Kawasaki Frontale, Chinese Super League giants Shanghai SIPG and South Koreans Ulsan Hyundai.
It is a surprise then that neither club took advantage of the ‘3+1’ rule for the upcoming campaign, where each ACL team can field a maximum of four foreign players, one of whom must be from an Asian country.
Is this a wasted opportunity for the Australian clubs or did they decide they would be better off with their local players? FourFourTwo looks at eight Asians who would have a case to be an improvement for both clubs.
1. Masato Morishige (Centre-back)
Sydney are currently 12 points clear at the top of the A-League ladder and while they have scored the most goals in the league, what is most impressive about the Sky Blues is their defensive record.
In 20 matches, they have conceded only 14 goals. Key to this statistic has been the form of Dutch centre-back Jordy Buijs, but with AFC rules only allowing three foreigners, coach Graham Arnold has sacrificed Buijs to name the attacking trio of Milos Ninkovic, Adrian Mierzejewski and Bobo as his ACL foreigners.
Sydney have missed a trick then by not choosing to sign an Asian centre-back, especially with the quality that Japanese international Morishige would add to the side. The 30-year-old, who plays for Tokyo FC and has 41 caps for his country as well as previous ACL experience, is regarded as one of the J-League’s best players.
2. Matthew Davies (Fullback)
A former A-League player, Matthew Davies spent two years with Perth Glory accumulating 16 senior appearances before leaving to sign with Pahang in 2015, giving the Australian-born fullback an opportunity to play international football with Malaysia.
Since his move, the 22-year-old who plays primarily at right-back has become a key player for both club and country, even becoming the youngest player ever to captain his Pahang.
An extremely energetic player, Davies was one of the most impressive performers at the recently concluded AFC Under-23 championships, where he provided the Malaysians with a reliable presence at right wing-back.
Capable in defence and always happy to bomb forward, Davies could have proven a useful option for either Australian club, especially so for Sydney FC as regular fullback Rhyan Grant continues to be sidelined after he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in July last year.
3. Irfan Fandi (Centre-back)
If Morishige was too costly for either club to pursue, then Singapore’s Irfan Fandi is another defender they could have looked at recruiting.
Still only 20 but with over 10 caps for his country already, Irfan was previously on the books of Chilean outfit Universidad Catolica, becoming the first Singaporean to play in South America.
Currently with developmental squad Young Lions, Irfan is set for trials in Holland with FC Groningen later this year. Not one to shy away from challenges as well as being comfortable on the ball, Irfan would certainly relish the chance of playing in a prestigious competition like the ACL.
Note that the last ASEAN player to represent an Australian club was a Singaporean as Safuwan Baharudin turned out for Melbourne City in 2015.
In the 12 years of the A-League's existence, only three players have been from ASEAN: Thai duo Surat Sukha and Sutee Suksomkit and Safuwan.