In the first of a three-part series. We take an in-depth look at all 12 of Southeast Asia’s domestic leagues.
Some have risen with great speed over the past decade or so, some have only been formed or revived over that same time frame whilst others have fallen on troubling times and others still are either on the verge of disappearing or mired in politics and corruption.
The 12 nations that comprise the Southeast Asian region of the global footballing sphere are spread almost as far apart as any other ‘sub-grouping’ across FIFA – from Vietnam and Myanmar in the north across to the sprawl of the Philippines and all the way down to Australia.
Alongside that vast geographic sprawl comes a similarly disparate range of standards amongst the local leagues in those nations.
Ranking and comparing the strengths of various leagues is a difficult task and one that has no exact scientific formula but here FOX Sports Asia – in the first of a three-part series – takes a look at those leagues that are doing well and those that have to sharpen things up.
OVERVIEW: Now the clear benchmark, along with Australia, in terms of both the national team and the standard of the domestic competition.
A top flight that now consists of a greater number of clubs (18) than any other in the region and a crisp, linear, structure reaching into the lower tiers and regional leagues. Thailand is one of the standard bearers for Southeast Asian football.
NUMBER OF TEAMS: 18
ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: One direct and two ACL playoff slots
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Four (Muangthong, Buriram, Chonburi, PEA)
STANDARD: A high quality, especially amongst the leading club sides with a very good technical level and rapidly improving tactical standard with a collection of former star players starting to transition nicely to the coaching ranks. Can be a touch individualistic at times but that is slowly changing and the TPL is also able to attract a good level of foreign talent.
CROWDS/MARKETING: Fluctuates between clubs but the league as a whole has decent crowds although only two (Buriram and Nakhon Ratchasima) cracked the 10,000 average mark last season.
The local press generally does an excellent job covering the league and there is a wide range of exposure of both clubs, players and the league as a whole.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
OVERVIEW: The fallen giant amongst the region; once a powerhouse in terms of glamour, crowds and spectacle, the S.League has leapt almost completely off a cliff over the past decade.
The early days of the league in the late 1990s would regularly see huge crowds, widespread media interest and some fierce battles but after the honeymoon period wore off so did the ability of the administration to keep the league viable.
Flirtation with the Malaysia league hurt, as did a lack of talent being produced and competing interests but the domestic competition is now a shell of its former self and amongst one of the worst in the region.
There are bigger crowds of people waiting on most subway stations across the island nation than there are at S.League matches and faded foreign players way past their prime being hailed as ‘stars’ have only added to the misery.
Aging stars have failed to boost the S.League.
NUMBER OF TEAMS: 9
ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: One ACL playoff spot and another in the AFC Cup.
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Six (Singapore Armed Forces, Tampines, Etoile, Warriors, Brunei DPMM, Albirex Niigata)
STANDARD: The handful of leading clubs have managed to hoard most of the national stars and as a result play some decent football but as we’ve seen in continental competition the playing and coaching standard is often found out at a higher level. Generally little tactical differentiation between the local clubs with a fairly poor technical and tactical standard right across the board.
CROWDS/MARKETING: In one word – woeful. Some of the local media battles gainfully to cover the league but the governing body does little that is visible to aid that cause and can’t even seem to organise themselves enough to release the fixtures any earlier than the eve of kickoff.
Crowds have fallen to the point where they are an open embarrassment and not even published on the official match reports.
OVERALL GRADE: C
OVERVIEW: In many ways Brunei are on the same fast track to irrelevance as Singapore by having a team playing in a foreign league – ironically in the S.League.
The local competition is left to flounder with a collection of poorly funded, essentially amateur clubs, battling away with the scraps left behind after Brunei DPMM have had their pick of the best local talent.
Now in its’ fifth season as the ‘Super League’ after replacing the previous ‘Premier League’, the whole season only consists of 18 matches and even with cup clashes thrown in that is not any kind of level or duration that serves the purpose of trying to groom players for the national team.
So poor are things that the governing body didn’t even bother to submit any clubs for entry to either the Champions League or AFC Cup and it’s hard to see how or when things will improve.
NUMBER OF TEAMS: Ten
ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: None
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Three (Indera SC, MS ABDB, QAF FC) – although the league was either not held or suspended for three seasons.
STANDARD: There are hardly any top-level coaches in the nation and as a result the quality of players that are being produced suffers as a result.
That in turn means the league is of a below average level both tactically and technically with various ‘external factors’ having played havoc with the Super League as teams are excluded from the league and the schedule is thrown upside down.
CROWDS/MARKETING: The league is not covered in any comprehensive manner by the local media and the Super League doesn’t even have an independent website, rather falling – in very rudimentary form – until the national association site.
Crowds are small to non-existent and the overall state of the league is very poor across the board.
OVERALL GRADE: D
OVERVIEW: Now in the eighth season of professional football, Myanmar has reaped the benefits of their push to increase the standard of the local competition with a collection of talented young players tasting success at youth level by reaching the Under-20 World.
The senior team too showed in reaching the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup that regular, competitive, football is preparing the local players for the rigours of international football.
The improvement has been reflected in the form of the national team.
Some decent foreign talent has been drawn to the league and matches are often well attended by vocal – and colourful – supporters which has seen the Myanmar National league (MNL) continue to grow and strengthen year on year.
The challenge will be to keep the best local stars at home as other clubs throughout the region have recognised the quality of player being produced by the MNL and may soon start to raid the league.
A push to spread the league into other regions of the country outside of Yangon is difficult for various reasons but is a key factor that needs to be improved to strengthen the league overall.
NUMBER OF TEAMS: 12
ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: One ACL playoff slot and two direct AFC Cup entrants.
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Two (Yadanarbon, Yangon United)
STANDARD: As evidenced by the fact that only two clubs have won the league in its eight-year existence the best talent and resources are concentrated in just a small number of teams with the rest largely battling to make up the numbers.
This naturally reduces the overall standard of the league although the top 3-4 clubs are full of technically sound players who like to play an attractive, attack-minded, up-tempo brand of football.
The leading clubs, especially Yangon United – are also investing heavily in both youth facilities and general infrastructure and really helping to lift the level of the league.
CROWDS/MARKETING: There are posters plastered all over Yangon – where the vast majority of matches are held – and the league is both fairly well attended and publicised.
Foreign experts and consultants have been brought in to assist with further growing the league and the local authorities seem to have things headed in the right direction.
OVERALL GRADE: B
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