McIntyre: Asian Games is about development, not winning
Scott McIntyre believes winning gold should not be the priority at the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
With a history that stretches back more than half a century and a lineup that now includes 465 events across 40 different sports the Asian Games is undoubtedly a spectacular event and one of the biggest such competitions outside of the Olympics.
If you’re involved in several different martial arts disciplines – Sepak takraw, Kabbadi, Dragon Boat racing or Bridge (where an 81-year-old Malaysian will make her debut) then this is close to the pinnacle of your sport and a moment where winning means everything.
If you’re involved in the football competition it’s a vastly different experience and that’s absolutely worth raising before things get underway in earnest.
For a start, the competition follows the Olympic model wherein it’s a restricted Under-23 event with three overage players permitted.
Secondly, the reigning Asian Cup champions will not participate as Australia is not eligible to enter the Asian Games and thirdly of the 25 nations that will participate there are a whole different range of approaches and desired/accepted outcomes.
Korea Republic have opted to include Asia’s best player, Son Heung-min, as well as another two overage players in leading J.League striker Hwang Ui-jo and star World Cup goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo as they aim to further their club careers by winning the gold medal and thus avoiding military service.
Asia’s leading nation, Japan, has wisely opted to focus purely on preparation for the next Olympics that they will host and have sent their U-21 side with coach Hajime Moriyasu saying at that announcement that the squad’s aim is to develop players to be in the best possible condition for the Olympics.
At the other end of the scale Hong Kong – bizarrely – have included three players aged 33 or older including 37-year-old forward Jordi Torres who is twice the age of several players that he’ll come up against when things get going in Indonesia this week.
The hosts too have joined in the veteran fun by including their own 37-year-old forward in Alberto ‘Beto’ Goncalves, which, quite naturally, makes an absolute mockery of the idea of this being a ‘youth’ tournament.
Those nations with a recognition that the end game is not winning a second-tier youth competition have wisely opted for their entire squads to be at the U-23 level in Saudi Arabia, Thailand, China and Iran.
If you exclude the trio of South Korean players included for non-football reasons then that nation too has opted for a squad where the bulk of the players will be eligible for the Olympics, as have the Saudis and the Iranians.
Let’s look at that again.
All of Asia’s World Cup representatives – leaving aside the excluded Australians – have opted to send a squad of players with not a single player (bar a couple of Korean exceptions who are also aiming to avoid military service) aged 21 or older.
This is absolutely, fundamentally, the correct approach towards youth development and the be-all-and-end-all of football at the Asian Games is not simply about winning.
What this approach by Asia’s best nations will actually do is harm their chances of winning this event and indeed the Japanese have simply said they’ll be pleased in reaching the semifinals.
There won’t be street parades through Tokyo if they win or burning down JFA House if they lose – this isn’t the point but it’s one that’s continually lost on a host of nations who have opted to employ their full compliment of overage players in blind pursuit of a short-term result, rather than the steady objective of long-term success.
In the end, as I said repeatedly with the AFC U-23 Championships earlier this year, it simply doesn’t matter who wins this event.
It’s not being played on anything nearing level terms and has the most powerful nations all focusing on the one thing that is far more important and that’s nurturing and developing the next generation of senior talent.
Winning though is a by-product of successful development and as such it still wouldn’t surprise to see those nations do well but the one thing that must absolutely be avoided is a lack of analysis of just how nations are approaching this event.
As I also noted in light of the hysteria surrounding Vietnam at the U23s the way that nations play and the exposure they give their players is far more important than any kind of win-at-all-costs mentality.
Son, Hwang and the other older South Korean players are not suspending their lucrative club careers because they have a burning desire to win the Asian Games, rather they are doing it for reasons that will earn them more money in the future.
For the bulk of the remainder of the players the aim should be to also put their names in the spotlight and the reality remains that – amongst the few international scouts that even care about the event – those players most likely to be given a chance abroad are the attacking ones.
It’s for that reason I was so critical of the negative, defensive, tactics employed by Vietnam at the U-23s and as I said at the time what that approach did was harm the chances of a supremely talented generation of attacking players in earning a move abroad.
Despite waves of hyperbole and misguided ‘analysis’ of Vietnam’s ‘fairytale’ in China how many of those players earned a move abroad as a result?
That’s right – zero.
Hopefully, the recent friendlies that we’ve seen Vietnam play where they have been far more positive and attack-minded will carry over into the Asian Games because those moves for their players to bigger clubs with better facilities, in leagues with better players are what will bring far more benefit to those countries in the long run.
It’s why at the Asian Games the focus must absolutely be on building for the future, establishing a framework where the best young attacking talents can have a chance to shine and playing positively.
It’s not about winning and losing as Asia’s best nation has noted and it’s a message worth highlighting before things get underway and whichever negative, counter-attacking, nation starts winning is hailed as the next success story in Asian football because that’s getting things completely the wrong way around.
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