Controversial rule diminishes Asia football award
Arsenal hosts Borussia Dortmund in a UEFA Champions League game that could pit South Korea captain Park Chu-young against Japanese star Shinji Kagawa on Wednesday but which prevents either of them being named as the 2011 Asian Player of the Year.
It is a cause of controversy every November because the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) decrees that only players who attend the ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are eligible to receive the continent's major individual football prize.
Since the rule came into operation in 2005, Asia's biggest names - including Park Ji-sung of Manchester United and Keisuke Honda at CSKA Moscow - have had little chance of being honored due to club commitments during what is always a busy time in the European season.
Park Ji-sung moved to Europe in 2002 and has become arguably the most successful Asian player in history. The South Korean forward has won four English Premier League titles, two Dutch championships and the Club World Cup title. He is the only Asian to appear in the final of the UEFA Champions League and the first to score at three consecutive World Cups.
Despite such a record, Park has never been named as the Asian Player of the Year. The 2010 recipient of the prize, Sasa Ognenovski, believes that the AFC should at least reconsider when it holds the ceremony to enable more players to attend.
''I think the rule that players must attend does diminish the award a little,'' the Australian defender, who plays for South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, told The Associated Press.
''The timing of it is an issue,'' Ognenovski added. ''They should consider the boys in Europe, the ones in Asia are usually available to attend. Perhaps if it was held in December then it would be easier for many to make it, then only the English Premier League-based players would have a problem.
Of the six players named on the shortlist for 2011, only two look likely to travel to the Malaysian capital for Wednesday's awards - Iranian defender Hadi Aghily and Uzbekistan's Server Djeparov, who recently transferred from FC Seoul to Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab.
Kagawa as well as Keisuke Honda and Koo Ja-cheol of VfL Wolfsburg have European commitments. With most players on national team duty in Asia just last week, clubs are unlikely to release their players for long-distance travel so soon after to attend an awards dinner.
Koo's South Korean compatriot Yeom Ki-hun plays in the K-League but is involved with a championship play-off clash with Suwon Bluewings. Ognenovski, who led Seongnam to the 2010 Asian Champions League title, was in the same situation as Yeom a year ago but fate intervened.
''I only ended up going to Kuala Lumpur as I was injured for Seongnam's second playoff game last year,'' the defender said. ''It was my first injury for a long time and if it wasn't for that, I would have played in the K-League and never won the award.''
Each continent has different criteria for its awards. Any African can win the African Player of the Year award, irrespective of where he plays. South Americans must belong to a South American or Mexican club to win the continental award.
CONCACAF, the confederation for North and Central America, does not give any individual prize, while the European Player of the Year, popularly known as the Ballon d'Or, merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2010.
From 2011, UEFA started to award its own prize for best player of any nationality playing in Europe.
Peter Velappan, the Asian Football Confederation's former General Secretary, believes that the rule of attendance has to be changed.
''We are the only confederation that does this. They should look at all Asian players whether they are playing in Asia or overseas,'' Velappan said. ''These days, many of the top national teams call their players from different leagues. In the best leagues in the world, they show their skills every week and they should be recognized for that. They provide a tremendous service to Asian football and help it develop and help its profile.''
Another point of contention is how players make it onto the shortlist for the award, as performances for clubs in domestic leagues are not considered.
Players win points if they are named most valuable player in certain competitions. For national teams these include World Cup and Olympic qualifiers and the Asian Cup. The only club matches that provide points are the Asian Champions League and the confederation's competition for second-tier Asian nations, the AFC Cup.
On Wednesday, for the players still in the running, their points total and any other achievements will be considered by a special panel and the winner will be announced. Despite the doubts about the criteria, Ognenovski is still proud to have been named as the confederation's top player in 2010 to cap a season in which he scored the opening goal in the Asian Champions League final win for his South Korean club.
''When you win an award it is a personal accolade and when you finish you career and look back, you can see how great an honor it is to win,'' he said. ''I was named as the best player in Asia and as the first Australian player to win, it was amazing.''