Ranking Southeast Asian domestic football leagues: Part 3

In the final part of our three-part series we take a look at the state of domestic football in Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia and Timor Leste.

MALAYSIA

OVERVIEW: Without question one of the most fervently passionate footballing nations in the region yet one whose league has lurched from huge crowds and some attractive styles of play to the folding of former champions and one scandal after another.

That’s often achieved even in the space of barely the lone season.

The emergence of JDT as a truly professional, forward-looking club has prompted others into action and with next year the deadline for clubs to have meet wide-ranging, league-imposed, benchmarks over how they run their organisations the future is a promising one for football in the nation.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 12

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: One ACL playoff spot and two group stages entrants for the AFC Cup.

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Five (JDT, Kedah, Selangor, Kelantan, Lions XI)

STANDARD: Varies widely with a handful of teams at the top tending to monopolise the best talent and by extension play the best football. Across the board though there is a worrying level of tactical innovation outside of a handful of coaches and the influence of agents and others in taking their cut of transfers means that player turnover is at times totally out of control.

That, in turn, leads to instability and inconsistency on the pitch whilst the raw technical level of the local players is also not at the same level of many of the other nations in the region.

CROWDS/MARKETING: One of the main problems faced by the league is the pervasive influence of the long-running Malaysia Cup as well as other enforced breaks throughout the season that tends to see the league play second fiddle at times.

The fact the whole season is woefully short at just 22 matches also means that it’s seemingly over before it’s begun and there needs to be a far greater emphasis placed on this as the rock for Malaysian football to construct a brighter future upon.

OVERALL GRADE: B

VIETNAM

OVERVIEW: Rapidly emerging as one of the most entertaining, technically outstanding leagues in the region with some passionate, knowledgeable support and a highly competitive league competition.

After mismanagement and match-fixing issues dogged the league for many years things seem to be getting cleaned up recently and the focus is back on the football, even if there are the occasional ‘bizarre’ events such as those which we saw at the start of last year when Hanoi FC promptly upped and moved to Ho Chi Minh City a couple of weeks into the season.

The V.League and VFF do an excellent job of trying to promote their league to an international audience and the standard of players being produced by some well-run academies is helping to raise the level on the pitch.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 14

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: One ACL playoff and two AFC group stage slots.

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Four (Hanoi T&T, Binh Duong, Da Nang, Song Lam Nghe An,)

STANDARD: With the academy setups at Hanoi T&T, Hoang Anh Gia Lai and elsewhere pouring impressive resources into developing young talent the league is suddenly flush with a crop of newly found, ‘modern’ footballers who are technically superb, comfortable on the ball and tactical able to read the flow of a match and the league is benefiting from this across the board.

The fact that those young stars have often been sent abroad for a season or two to hone their skills can only further increase the overall level of competition upon their return and whilst it would be good to see more foreign coaches in the V.League to further expand the tactical framework there’s no question that technically Vietnam is in the very top tier of Southeast Asian nations.

CROWDS/MARKETING: The league is active on various social media platforms and coverage of the game – both digital and print-wise – is extensive and often passionately presented.

There seems to be a real push to try and grow the game and cast of the dark shadows of the recent past and Vietnam is doing a lot of things in this regard very well.

OVERALL GRADE: B+

AUSTRALIA

OVERVIEW: The standard of television production is very good and the crowds are – easily – the best in the region, at least until Indonesia gets its act together.

The fact that there still remains only ten clubs in the competition remains a real issue though, as does the fact that there is no promotion or relegation which can lead to a stale element creeping into things as the season wears on.

Australia is also the only nation in the region to have a playoff series which brings with its positives and negatives and while technically the standard is not of the same level as several other Southeast Asian leagues the overall ‘package,’ especially around the marketing of the sport means that it should be seen as one of the better leagues in the region, despite the A-League being barely a decade old.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 10

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: Two direct and one ACL playoff spot.

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: Six (Melbourne Victory, Newcastle, Sydney FC, Brisbane, Central Coast, Adelaide)

STANDARD: Australia remains the only Southeast Asian nation to have won the Asian Champions League following Western Sydney’s success in 2014.

Other clubs have done well in Asia and that speaks volumes to the standard of talent that features in the league as the competition is also able to attract a better calibre of import than any other league across the region.

Technically, things can be a little ordinary at times but matches are generally played with a high intensity and the physical level is easily the best in Southeast Asia.

CROWDS/MARKETING: The league is generally fairly well marketed and the crowds are very strong across the board but especially in the larger cities of Melbourne and Sydney.

With the league adopting a salary cap it has lead to a very level playing field as the fact that there have been six different champions in the past decade points to and that helps to maintain interest from fans of most clubs, most seasons.

The finals series – where six of the ten clubs reach the post-season – whilst clearly far too high also aids with maintaining interest and crowds right until the final stages of the season.

OVERALL GRADE: A-

TIMOR LESTE

OVERVIEW: Along with Laos, Timor remains the nation with the poorest professional league standards across Southeast Asia.

After years of poorly-run, shoddy leagues that were virtually that in name only an attempt was made to get things back on track last year with the launch of the Liga Amadora.

After starting with a blaze of publicity following some high-profile Indonesian signings, many of those players quietly departed and the league passed by without a huge deal of interest either home or abroad.

There are though a handful of passionate and dedicated individuals working behind the scenes to try and professionalize the league and hope is high that things may start to improve shortly.

NUMBER OF TEAMS: 8

ACL/AFC CUP SLOTS: None

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT CHAMPIONS OVER THE PAST DECADE: The league has not been run in any consistent, viable format for much of the past decade although SLB Laulara were crowned the inaugural Liga Amadora champions in 2016.

STANDARD: The local Timorese players are technically gifted and physically strong which means many of the raw ingredients are there for the league to be a success if things can continue to grow and develop.

The addition of some more experienced players from Indonesia is also helping to raise the standard but for now there is little to no foreign expertise being brought in to help raise the tactical standard and it could be a while until the Timorese reach the standard of other Southeast Asian nations although it bares worth repeating that there are some very impressive individuals working to try and accomplish this.

CROWDS/MARKETING: Presently there is very little visibility or interest in the league although with the groups working feverishly to promote and develop the sport the hope is that this will quickly improve.

OVERALL GRADE: D

Click here to see the first part of the three-part series.

Click here to see part 2 of the three-part series.

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