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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

Timing continues to diminish major AFC award


SEOUL — Arsenal hosts Borussia Dortmund in a UEFA Champions League game that could pit South Korea captain Park Chu Young against Shinji Kagawa on Wednesday but which prevents either of them being named as the 2011 Asian Player of the Year.

News photo
Missing out: Club commitments will cost Shinji Kagawa, among others, the chance to win the AFC's Player of the Year award. AP

It is a cause of controversy every November because the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) decrees that only players who attend the ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are eligible to receive the continent's major individual football prize.

Since the rule came into operation in 2005, Asia's biggest names — including Park Ji Sung of Manchester United and Keisuke Honda at CSKA Moscow — have had little chance of being honored due to club commitments during what is always a busy time in the European season.

Park Ji Sung moved to Europe in 2002 and has become arguably the most successful Asian player in history. The South Korean forward has won four English Premier League titles, two Dutch championships and the Club World Cup title. He is the only Asian to appear in the final of the UEFA Champions League and the first to score at three consecutive World Cups.

Despite such a record, Park has never been named as the Asian Player of the Year. The 2010 recipient of the prize, Sasa Ognenovski, believes that the AFC should at least reconsider when it holds the ceremony to enable more players to attend.

"I think the rule that players must attend does diminish the award a little," the Australian defender, who plays for South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, said.

"The timing of it is an issue," Ognenovski added. "They should consider the boys in Europe, the ones in Asia are usually available to attend. Perhaps if it was held in December then it would be easier for many to make it, then only the English Premier League-based players would have a problem.

Of the six players named on the shortlist for 2011, only two look likely to travel to the Malaysian capital for Wednesday's awards — Iranian defender Hadi Aghily and Uzbekistan's Server Djeparov.

Kagawa as well as Keisuke Honda and Koo Ja-cheol of VfL Wolfsburg have European commitments. With most players on national team duty in Asia just last week, clubs are unlikely to release their players for long-distance travel so soon after to attend an awards dinner.

Koo's South Korean compatriot Yeom Ki Kun plays in the K-League but is involved with a championship playoff clash with Suwon Bluewings. Ognenovski, who led Seongnam to the 2010 Asian Champions League title, was in the same situation as Yeom a year ago but fate intervened.

"I only ended up going to Kuala Lumpur as I was injured for Seongnam's second playoff game last year," the defender said. "It was my first injury for a long time and if it wasn't for that, I would have played in the K-League and never won the award."

Each continent has different criteria for its awards. For instance, any African can win the African Player of the Year award, irrespective of where he plays. South Americans must belong to a South American or Mexican club to win the continental award.

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