Shinji Ono's departure prompts A-League rethink on Asian player quota

The noticeable lack of Asian players in the A-League could be the trigger for the FFA to intervene and introduce a designated Asian-only visa position.

Of the 44 foreign visa players in the competition, only one - Western Sydney Wanderers marquee Shinji Ono - comes from Asia.

Given Ono is due to leave to leave the Wanderers in May, it makes for an embarrassing look for the competition in the build-up to the Asian Cup next January.

Talk around a designated Asian spot has bubbled away for some time, and has been discussed by the governing body before, only for the discussions to go nowhere.


But FFA chief executive David Gallop, who returned from the annual Asian Football Confederation meeting in Oman on Sunday night, believes it's time the league converted one of the five foreign spots for each A-League club into an Asian position.

“The details would need finetuning and discussing with the clubs but having a spot for an Asian player definitely fits with our strategic direction,” he told Fairfax Media. “By 2020, it's estimated there will be 400 million people playing football in Asia. We are part of that. Football can help the nation build political and economic ties with Asia. The A-League would benefit from fostering opportunities for Asian players.”

Gallop admitted it was hardly ideal to have just one Asian player in the league as they seek to strengthen ties with neighbouring countries.

“Our links with Asia are important, and when Shinji goes it will be disappointing to have lost our only star player from Asia,” he said.

Gallop said the stability across the league would give an opportunity to explore the concept in greater detail.

“To be honest, things like financial stability have taken precedence for the A-League thus far,” he said. “But there's an opportunity now to build on the current conditions, and certainly the Asian Champions League will get greater and greater focus in years ahead.”

However, with most clubs having foreign players on multi-year contracts, Gallop said it was unlikely that the change could be implemented next season.

“It might take some time given the existing rules for visa places, which are for five foreign players, but it is definitely worth exploring,” he said.

While Asian players have largely been overshadowed by imports from Europe and South America, they have made a significant impact when given opportunities by A-League clubs.

None has made a bigger impact than Ono, who will be sorely missed when he joins J-League second division side Consadole Sapporo.

He is not alone. Qu Shengqing, Song Jin-Hyung and Mohammed Adnan all made significant impacts for their respective clubs. Ryo Nagai was doing the same for Perth Glory this season until his parent club, Cerezo Osaka, ended his loan deal.

Byun Sung-Hwan scored the winning penalty in an A-League grand final for Sydney FC, while Brisbane's Seo Hyuk-Su and Melbourne Victory's Surat Sukha won plenty of admirers.

Japanese icon Kazuyoshi “Kazu” Miura, in just four games, lit up the competition while Ali Abbas - realistically only given an opportunity after seeking asylum in Australia - has been arguably Sydney's best player this year. Abbas is now an Australian resident.

Yet while Ono stands alone today, the number of Australians playing in Asia continues to soar.

There are 52 Australians playing in 12 professional leagues across the continent, including nations as diverse as Iran, India and Myanmar.

The primary reason for this is because the majority of those countries have embraced the “3+1” rule in their domestic leagues, which allows each club to sign three foreign players and one foreign Asian player.

That law is enforced across all Asian club competitions, which arguably puts other nations at a head start over the Australian clubs in the Asian Champions League, who often face the tricky decision of omitting up to two foreign players for the continental competition.

Fan favourite: Shinji Ono will leave the Wanderers at the end of the season. Photo: Getty Images

Fan favourite: Shinji Ono will leave the Wanderers at the end of the season. Photo: Getty Images

This story Shinji Ono's departure prompts A-League rethink on Asian player quota first appeared on Hills News.


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