J-League and A-League look at joint marquee fund

Daisuke Nakanishi liked the idea of grand finals so much he took them back to Japan. Next week the boss of the J-League will sign a formal partnership with the A-League to develop concepts, exchange expertise and strengthen ties. There’s some exciting plans, which we’ll get to in moment. In the meantime Nakanishi san will attend Sunday’s grand final in Adelaide, more convinced than ever that the Australian way of deciding championships is the way to go. The world game following Australia’s lead? Now that doesn’t happen too often.

Nakanishi will bring his delegation to Adelaide towards the end of grand final week, but he already knows what to expect. The managing director of the J-League was also here for last season’s title-decider in Melbourne – an experience which firmed up his belief that Japan should also introduce end-of-season play-offs. Last season, for the first time, the J-League ran a finals series, and now Nakanishi is hooked. “They’ve been across here a few times studying how we conduct our finals system,” says the Head of International Relations for Football Federation Australia, Mark Falvo. “They’ve obviously got the same system now in Japan, and I think they’re pretty happy with how things have worked out.”

Reds through to first home grand final

Adelaide will host the A-League grand final for the first time after they outgunned Melbourne City 4-1 in the first semi-final.

So, too, is the FFA. As the A-League starts to look beyond the horizon and develop strategies for the long-term, there’s no better role model than Japan. So here’s the good news. No, make that great news. The day after the grand final, the A-League and the J-League will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to see what other mutual benefits a closer relationship can bring. It’s the first time the A-League has signed an official partnership with another Asian league. Iran could be next, but right now Japan is the perfect place to start.

There are many facets to the MoU, but undoubtedly the most imaginative is a joint marquee fund. Yep, you heard that right. As both competitions struggle to compete – or simply don’t want to compete – with the extraordinary sums being paid by the UAE, Qatar and China for big-name foreigners, they’re looking at joining forces. “The idea is to co-invest in players and share them across the two leagues,” says Falvo. Half a season in Japan, the other half in Australia. For players who are not entirely focused on money – the sort of players you really want to see – that’s an attractive proposition.

Major marquee: Japan and Australia may join forces to attempt to sign high-profile players such as Alessandro Del Piero. Major marquee: Japan and Australia may join forces to attempt to sign high-profile players such as Alessandro Del Piero. 

Other plans for the MoU include coaching exchanges, administrator exchanges, youth tournaments, leveraging football for closer bi-lateral governmental relations and – significantly – joint promotions when Australian and Japanese clubs play each other in the Asian Champions League. To say both countries are frustrated with the pitiful marketing of the ACL is an understatement.

Unlike the A-League, this is not the first time the J-League has entered a partnership with another Asian country. Japan has similar arrangements in place with Qatar, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The global ambitions of the English Premier League are no secret, while the Bundesliga (Germany) and La Liga (Spain) are starting to follow suit. There needs to be a counter-balance, and clearly the J-League believes only a pan-Asian approach can manage the damaging effects of this football colonialism and protect the integrity of domestic competitions.

By signing the MoU, Australia has effectively joined the fight. At the very least, this growing political alliance between Australia and Japan strengthens the case to start influencing the direction of Asian football. A small, but important, step is to get the Asian Football Confederation to recognise the grand final (or championship final) winners as champions in both countries, rather than first-past-the-post. The AFC seems set to agree to the request.

In the meantime, Nakanishi gets to savour the colour and passion of grand final day at Adelaide Oval next weekend. Adelaide United may be well known in Japan thanks to their ACL exploits, but less known is their impact here at home. I’d wager Nakanishi san will be suitably impressed.