Yasuhito Endo may have been named Asian Player of the Year, but the award has become devalued in recent years.
Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo was named AFC Player of the Year for 2009 and, in being named the continent’s finest performer, he joins a list of Japanese players that includes two-time winner Hidetoshi Nakata, UEFA Cup winner Shinji Ono, former Japan captain Masami Ihara and Kazuyoshi Miura.
The 30-year-old was chosen ahead of compatriot Kengo Nakamura, as well as Iran’s Hadi Aghily, Firas Al Khatib of Syria and Sayed Mohamed Adnan from Bahrain.
But missing from the list of nominees once again were players of the calibre of Manchester United’s South Korea midfielder Park Ji-sung and Shunsuke Nakamura, currently with Espanyol in Spain but who won three Scottish league titles in a row with Celtic. The refusal of the AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam to allow players who feature for clubs outside the continent to be considered for the award continues to devalue what was once one of the most coveted prizes in the Asian game.
Endo’s success this time was not without controversy, with even the player himself questioning his nomination for the award 12 months after a season when he was favourite to claim the title before losing out to Uzbekistan’s Server Djeparov.
“I don’t know why I’ve been nominated,” he said the day before being handed the award. “I don’t really understand the criteria.”
And therein lies the problem.
In an attempt to make the award less subjective than it might have been in the past, the AFC has concocted a convoluted criteria that sees players awarded points by match commissioners at each of the games administered by the confederation, with these tallied up at the end of the year to determine the winner of the award.
As a result, Endo claimed the title at an annual awards ceremony dominated by players, coaches and teams from the east of the continent.
“I would like to thank the AFC for this award,” he said. “This is a big honour for me.
“I was here last year but, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to win. However, I am very happy to win this year.
“I hope I can be a role model for young players everywhere and give hope to others in Asian football.”
South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo, meanwhile, was named Coach of the Year after he steered his side to the finals of this summer’s World Cup, while another Korean, Celtic-bound Ki Sung-yong, won the AFC Youth Player of the Year award.
Meanwhile, just six months after successfully fighting off a challenge to his position at the head of the confederation, Hammam signed a lucrative eight-year extension to the body’s marketing and television deal with World Sport Group.
The new deal, which commences in 2013 and runs until 2020, is worth a total of $1billion – the most lucrative in Asian sport – and sees the two bodies continue a relationship that began back in 1993.
“Asian football is scaling new heights and it is the AFC’s pleasure to renew our tight relationship with WSG, who were the first ones to recognise the incredible potential of the Asian game,” said the AFC president.
“This is a landmark deal and shows what Asian football is capable of achieving. WSG have been steadfast in their commitment to AFC and have played a significant role in popularising the Asian game worldwide.”
The impending deal had been a bone of contention for several parties within the opposition to Hammam earlier in the year.
These had rallied around the candidacy of Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain as he challenged Hammam for his seat on the FIFA Executive Committee.
Hammam, however, won the election by just two votes after earlier threatening to stand down from his post as president of the confederation if he had lost.