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Ranking Southeast Asia’s domestic football leagues: Part 2

In part two of a three-part series we take a look at the state of domestic football in the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia.

LAOS

OVERVIEW: Alongside Timor-Leste, and perhaps even in a league of their own, Laos stands as a giant black eye for football in the region.

As many as eight clubs and counting withdrew from the ‘Premier’ League at the end of last season and somehow that included the defending champions (and only genuinely professional club) in Lanexang United.

Virtually the entire team of the other ‘big’ club in the country, Lao Toyota, were earlier this week handed life bans for match fixing and the Lao Federation has been sprucing/begging for entries for the new league (start date still unknown) via Facebook.

It’s unknown if there will be any professional clubs entering this league or indeed what format it will take – all this in the month where it was to have started; football in Laos is an unbridled embarrassment and there is seemingly little being done to fix it.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: Unknown (but likely between 6-10)

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: Two AFC Cup slots (but in reality only one via the playoffs after Lanexang folded)

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Nine (Lao American College, Lao Army, Lao Bank, YOTHA FC, Lao Police, SHB Champasak, Hoang Anh Attapeu, Lao Toyota, Lanexang)

STANDARD: When the league was in a semi-orderly manner for the past couple of seasons the gap between Lanexang (champions by six points) and Lao Toyota and the rest of the league was widening to a massive level with little sign of being closed.

Now, with those clubs both as a good as gone whatever league the LFF manage to thrown together will be similar to a park-standard tournament in most Southeast Asian nations and there has to be grave fears for the future of football growth and development in the nation.

CROWDS/MARKETING: There are reports that Lanexang have not been paid their prize money from last year, that the referees have also not been paid and the league as a whole was very poorly marketed with the leading clubs clearly carrying the load for the rest of the competition with the AFC needing to urgently step in and try and clean up the sport from the top down.

OVERALL GRADE: D

PHILIPPINES

OVERVIEW: Out of the ashes of the seven-year old United Football League (UFL) comes the new Philippines Football League (PFL), set to be launched in April.

This is being marketed as the first ‘truly’ professional league in the history of the nation and certainly in terms of national reach it fits that bill with teams set to be based in Manila, Bacolod, Cebu, Cavite, Laguna and possibly Davao.

Considering that the UFL was for the most part an exclusively metro Manila-based tournament (even if teams were officially ‘based’ elsewhere) this is truly a positive move.

The problem is that scant details are in place less than two months out from the mooted start of the ‘revolutionary’ league and despite excitement at the promise of the PFL if things get off to a rocky start then sponsors and broadcasters may not stay interested for too long.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: Uncertain but likely 8-10

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: One ACL playoff and two AFC Cup group stage entrants

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Five (Philippine Air Force, Global, Loyola Sparks, Kaya, Stallion)

STANDARD: Yet to be determined but it will need to be a step up from the UFL to really have the impact that everybody in the Philippines hopes and that is to be grow the interest in the sport locally and to provide more home-grown talents for the national team.

Although the popularity of the sport is growing steadily, the Philippines remain (along with Australia) the only Southeast Asian nation where football is not the main game in town and poor crowds at the recent AFF Suzuki Cup that they co-hosted were a black eye for football administrators in the country.

Many of the local players are technically gifted and there have been a handful of decent foreigners who have helped to raise the level a notch but much needs to be done to send football into the mainstream orbit and the PFL is hopefully a step in the right direction.

CROWDS/MARKETING: There has been a good deal of interest in the PFL but that will need to be capitalised successfully given the UFL struggled for both mainstream media exposure and sponsors throughout its entire existence.

OVERALL GRADE: Nominal B- given the need to ensure the new league gets off to a flying start and it’s not yet clear that will be the case.

CAMBODIA

OVERVIEW: One of the oldest leagues in the region, the C-League has been running in one form or another since 1982 although it’s never really given off the impression of being a slickly run, truly professional, league likes those in other nations across Southeast Asia.

Match-fixing claims both proven and otherwise have dogged the league for decades but at least there continues to be a constant stream of technically sound players emerging from the league.

Much of that can be put down to the solid grassroots work being down by a handful of clubs, notably Phnom Penh Crown, but there is much to be done in terms of marketing and the overall tactical level of the competition to raise the C-League to the next tier of leagues in the region.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 12

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: Two AFC Cup playoff slots.

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Four (Phnom Penh Crown, Naga Corp, Boeung Ket, Svay Rieng)

STANDARD: Power has long been concentrated in a small handful of clubs and as is the case in Myanmar that has often led to lopsided contests and only a couple of clubs remaining in the title hunt as the league hits the home straight.

The competition is in dire need of more experienced tactical nous from outside the country to help guide and hone the impressive stock of raw playing talent that emerges from the provinces right across the country.

The move of star forward Chan Vathanaka to Japan has the potential to do wonders for the next wave of young stars coming through the league and they will see – for the first time – that there is now a genuine pathway to bigger leagues abroad.

CROWDS/MARKETING: There has long been issues with covering the league and certain ‘favours’ are often needed to be done to ensure so and crowds are also fairly modest compared to those in other nations across the region.

OVERALL GRADE: C

INDONESIA

OVERVIEW: After years of starts, re-starts, bans and turnover football in Indonesia has made that nation’s political scene seem relatively straightforward.

2017 brings yet another new dawn with the launch of the newly named Liga Satu (League One) that aims to bring all the warring groups together and herald the start of a new era of organisation and prosperity for a nation who was last year welcomed back into the international arena after a previous FIFA ban.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 18

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: None (although they are aiming to submit an entry for the 2018 season onwards)

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Five (Persipura Jayapura, Arema, Sriwijaya, Bandung, Semen Padang)

STANDARD: With all the changes over the past decade the league has ebbed and flowed between being able to attract decent foreigners and keep their best talent to having poorly run clubs constantly turning over players and coaches and that has led to a wide range of quality on the pitch.

Technically the Indonesian players are some of the best in Asia and if this supposed new era can help harness that raw talent with some more commanding tactical control then the league can really grow.

For now though, in what’s something even close to resembling the first proper league for several seasons it’s still unknown just what the quality will be like, although there have been some encouraging signs in the ongoing President’s Cup tournament.

CROWDS/MARKETING: This is another great unknown although given just how passionate Indonesian fans are for the game – and especially for the local product – we can expect large crowds to flock to the various venues around the country and the local media always does a good job in supporting the sport.

OVERALL GRADE: B- (This is as much a predictive grade given the huge number of variables around the latest incarnation of the league but with a few seasons of stability this could easily improve)

Check out the first part here:

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