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China v Japan - AFC Women’s Asian Cup Semi Final

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Opinion: Sunderland Ladies could find value in an Asian recruitment strategy!

With players regularly moving country to develop their careers and clubs scouting further afield in search of value, Roker Report’s very own Asian football expert Charlotte Patterson makes the case for Sunderland Ladies to recruit from the Far East.

Jun Endo of Japan in action during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup semi final between China and Japan at Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex on February 3, 2022 in Pune, India.
| Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

The Asian market is one which has seemingly reaped more rewards and benefits, than it has unsuccessful stories. That certainly appears to be the case at the moment and within the men’s side of football. As someone who spends a lot of time watching Asian Football, following the leagues and nations, researching and writing about them. It would have been difficult not to notice the commercial impact, promotion, advertisement and following clubs get from signing a player from an Asian Nation.

Justthis week, Tokyo Verdy (a Japanese second tier team) announced the signing of an Indonesian football player, Pratama Arhan. The announcement was met with such joy, pride and jubilation from Indonesians, that Tokyo Verdy’s Instagram account went from around 36,000 followers this morning, to 209,000 followers (at time of writing).

Indonesia v Singapore - AFF Suzuki Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg
Pratama Arhan of Indonesia has joined J-League side Tokyo Verdy, and immediately boosted their social media following
Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

That’s a 480.5% increase in followers in less than 24 hours! They are now the most followed Japanese club on Instagram. Not to mention that on the majority of Verdy’s Instagram posts average between 2000 – 5000 likes on each photo. On the announcement photo of the new Indonesian player, Verdy has over 355,000 likes and that is in the space of 16 hours.

Another men’s football team, this time Ansan Greeners (a Korean second tier team). In January 2021, they announced the signing of another Indonesian football player, Asnawi Mangkualam. At the time of the announcement, Ansan had around roughly 10,000 followers on Instagram. A year later in February 2022, they now have 103,000 followers on Instagram. Making them the most followed Korean club, surpassing the likes of nine time league champions Jeonbuk Hyundai.

To relay this back to women’s football, just last month, Roma Calcio Femminile (AS Roma’s women’s team) announced the signing of an 18 year old Indonesian defender Shalika Aurelia Viandrisa. Whilst I haven’t got the figures of what their Instagram followers were prior to the signing and now, I have noted that on most posts by the club, they average between 100-200 likes on each photo. On the announcement photo of the player, they have nearly 13,000 likes.

Now, it is worth mentioning that Indonesian football fans are notoriously loyal, passionate and proud when it comes to their players and the national team. But, the following that Asian players amass when they move to clubs outside their countries, cannot be underestimated.

Australia v Indonesia - AFC Women’s Asian Cup Group B
Holly McNamara of Australia and Shalika Aurelia Viandrisa of Indonesia compete for the ball during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Group B match between Australia and Indonesia at Mumbai Football Arena on January 21, 2022 in Mumbai, India.
Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

As someone who follows and writes on Asian football, I follow a lot of people on social media who are Asian football fans. I know many Japanese fans who follow the likes of Arsenal Women and West Ham United Women, due to the fact they have Japanese players such as Mana Iwabuchi and Yui Hasegawa.

Tottenham Hotpsur Women get a lot of following from China due to having Tang Jiali on loan, as well as from Korea, with having Cho So-hyun on the team. South Korean football fans tend to strongly follow Chelsea Women due to Ji So-yun playing for the club for nearly 8 years now.

Were Sunderland Ladies to tap into the Asian market, they could well gain a huge international following. Recently it has been difficult not to notice the lack of support for the lasses, whether that is in terms of fan attendance at games or interactions online. All of us at Roker Report have been discussing recently, what can be done in relation to increasing attendances and engagement with the team.

Of course this idea of mine may be farfetched and the likelihood of it happening is very slim. But, it’s an idea to have in mind for the club. Whether something which happens soon or more likely (if ever) an idea for the future.

I would like to reiterate as well that I understand and am not for clubs signing players purely for commercial value. We’ve seen that occur many times in men’s football, where a players reputation and following, naturally does not correlate to success as the pitch. I’ve also seen it in women’s football, particularly in the likes of the NWSL and WSL. However, I’d argue like I did at the start, that signing an Asian football player is low risk and high reward in most instances. The likes of Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi for Celtic Men are proof of that at the moment.

I watch and follow a lot of Japanese football and this year, I have spent a lot of time following the newly formed WE. League in Japan. The first ever professional women’s football league. From the games I have watched so far, there is undoubtedly copious amounts of young talent and technical, experienced veterans in the league. Already this season, we saw one young player, Jun Endo, transfer from Tokyo Verdy Beleza to the newly formed Angel City FC, in the NWSL.

Transfers and wages in women’s football is usually quite secretive, so I could not begin to guess how much it would cost to buy a player from an Asian League, the wages and fees involved, as well as the difficulty in acquiring a work permit.

Things are slightly easier, if the player has dual citizenship and immigration rules are often on the tabloe in post-Brexit trade negotations with Asian economies, but potentially, the lasses could look to acquire a player on loan as good way to test the waters and see if it works.

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League
Ki Sung Yueng was a hit during his loan at Sunderland. Could the Lasses make a similar move for an Asian star and boost our reach in the global football marketplace?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

It is fantastic to see the club add in young talents from the Regional Talent Centres (RTC) and looks to be adopting a ‘built not bought’ ethos at the moment. Whether that is intentional or due to circumstances, we might not ever know. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Of course, there are numerous things that the club can do in the interim in terms of small but effective changes, which should be trialled and done first. But in terms of promoting the club to a worldwide audience and looking at different avenues, this is again an idea they could consider, no matter how farfetched it may be. It is always important to consider long term projects, marketing and changes in philosophies.

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