The FIFA vice-president drew together a round table panel of international ‘wise heads’ in Jordan at the weekend for a two-day brainstorming session whose proposals to open up the competition will be set before the AFC.
Prince Ali hopes the concept of change to open access to all AFC members will be approved by the end of November. That appears optimistic given that the weekend panel, organised under the auspices of his own Asian Football Development Project, took eight months to get off the ground.
This may have been due to nervous concerns within the AFC hierarchy about possible contravention of terms of its long-standing and long-running contract with commercial partner World Sports Group.
However, the AFC’s role is to provide a minimum number of matches for the competition. That issue is satisfied by formulae generated by the 18-strong panel comprising international industry experts and administrators from federations and confederations.
Significantly, AFC members of the panel included Yousef Serkal (vice-chairman and competitions committee chairman), Windsor John (executive director, competitions) and Stuart Ramalingam (director, club competitions).
Indeed, with the leadership of the AFC paralysed politically by the Bin Hammam Saga, impetus for progress may only be possible from outside the formal system.
Currently the Asian Champions League is open only to clubs from the elite maximum 14 nations which fulfil a list of exacting criteria. The latter were established to ensure quality of participants and drive development. But they have also created a closed shop.
All other Asian associations can enter clubs only in the AFC Cup, a sort of equivalent to UEFA’s Europa League.
Prince Ali’s proposals provide a Champions League entry opportunity for all clubs who fulfil imminent club licensing terms. Clubs from the elite nations would still have group entry guarantees.
Entry levels could be assessed by a coefficient based on both club and federation status to encourage development at national and club levels. Early round losers would go into an amended AFC Cup.
By Keir Radnedge