Exodus of Asian playing talent to Europe

BY foxsports • February 10, 2011

The exodus of east Asia's top players to the rich playing fields of Europe is gathering pace, with Australians increasingly drifting north to fill the gaps.

Winners Japan, runner-up Australia and third-placed South Korea were the standout teams in the recently concluded Asian Cup and those performances should only build demand for their player talent.

On the final days of the European transfer window, South Korean midfielder Koo Ja-cheol left the K-league to sign for 2009 German champion Wolfsburg, Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki joined Stuttgart while Yuto Nagatomo was loaned to European champion Inter Milan.

The defender is just one of a growing number of East Asian stars active in the big leagues. Players from Korea and Japan are not only moving to nations such as Germany, England and Italy at an increasingly young age, but it is becoming more common for them to join those leagues directly from the K-League and the J-League rather than cut their teeth in lower European leagues.

South Korea star Park Ji-sung joined Manchester United after earning his stripes in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven.

Park's compatriot Park Chu-young signed for French club Monaco in 2008 from Seoul and the same Korean club sold Lee Chung-yong to English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers in 2009 and Ki Sung-yong to Scottish giant Celtic in 2010. All three players were 23 or under.

''It is no surprise to see more Korean players head to Europe,'' said Park Yong-soo, head of the Korean Football Association's Strategy and Development department. ''They are technically very good and their effort and work for the team is excellent. In European terms Koreans are still relatively cheap and offer good value for money.

''It is certainly healthy for our national team though there is a debate these days as to what it means for the K-League and domestic soccer; it provides a challenge for the league that it has to deal with. But for the players who go, it is excellent experience and they play with and against the best players in the world.''

Okazaki became the sixth Japanese player to head to Germany since the 2010 World Cup when he left Shimizu. The club's coach Afshin Ghotbi, a former assistant coach with the South Korea national team, welcomes the a greater Asian presence in Europe.

''Simply, the South Koreans and Japanese are developing better youth players and are far ahead of rest of Asia in producing talent capable of playing at the highest level,'' said Ghotbi, who took Iran to the quarterfinal of the 2011 Asian Cup. ''The development of youth has a longer history in Japan than any other country in Asia, and South Korea is catching up quickly.''

''Japanese players are very technical, intelligent, hardworking, disciplined, and willing to do a job for their team,'' added Ghotbi. ''Playing abroad will be a great opportunity for the top Japanese players to experience a different football culture and tactical priorities. It will also give younger Japanese players more opportunity for first team football in the J-League. Japanese football wins with this migration.''

As more of their stars head overseas, clubs in Japan and Korea have been buying an increasing number of Australian imports, offering bigger salaries than those available in the fledgling A-League.

Shimizu has strengthened by signing Alex Brosque from A-League champion Sydney. He joins compatriots Josh Kennedy, Eddy Bosnar and Matthew Spiranovic in the J-League.

Iain Fyfe has left Adelaide United for Korean team Busan IPark and young international Luke Devere has joined South Korean club Gyeongnam. Australian defender Sasa Ognenovski is already in Korea and earned continental-wide recognition in 2010 in lifting the Asian Champions League trophy with Seongnam Ilhwa.

Ghotbi believes that more Australian players will follow in their footsteps.

''In Korea, Japan and China, the clubs can get an English speaking player with a hard working and Australian fighting spirit. It is a win-win situation.''

Brendan Schwab, chief executive of Professional Footballers Australia, is happy to see players head to East Asia.

''We have huge respect for the J-League and the K-League,'' said Schwab. I have no doubt that if players like Matthew Spiranovic, Sasa Ognenovski, Luke Devere and Josh Kennedy all excel at these levels, the Socceroos will be an even stronger force in Asia.

''Without a substantial number of players paying overseas, Australia will not succeed at international level. Our talent pool is very small, as there are only about 240 jobs in Australia. Brazil has 16,000. The international career path builds the size of our talent pool, especially if we are focused on developing players to replace those who move.''

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