In the ‘real world’ Japan may be starting to challenge China’s long-standing influence in Burma, but in football, China is nowhere to be seen. The Land of the Rising Sun is leading the way.
The J-League, widely regarded as Asia’s best domestic competition at least in terms of operation, administration and organization, has been making inroads into Southeast Asia.
For Japan, access to new markets to show games and offer opportunities for sponsors coupled with the possibility of access to young talent from the region is attractive.
Almost no players move from Southeast Asia to the big European leagues, but plenty of stars move from the J-League to England, Germany and elsewhere, which can be an attractive to rising Southeast Asian football players. In August, the J-League signed an agreement with the Myanmar football association which will allow the Japanese to demonstrate how to run a professional football league.
Local officials will work with Japanese partners to learn about all aspects of management, marketing, sponsorship and pretty much everything else. Zaw Zaw, chairman of the Myanmar Football Federation, was in no doubt that the deal would be beneficial.
"It is important to have a good partner for us to be able to develop soccer in our country," Zaw Zaw said.
J. League chairman Kazumi Ohigashi. "We want to put forward to our fellow Asian countries the knowhow we have acquired.
It is not only Burma. The J-League has been getting involved with other countries in the region trying to gain access to new fans and potential talent. Earlier this year, a deal was signed with Vietnam.
The J-League and the Vietnam Professional Football Company (VPF) will share information and experience in addition to engaging in all kinds of exchanges at the coaching and training level.
VPF chairman Vo Quoc Thang has vowed to apply the lessons learned from Japan.
“The J-League will also help Vietnam exploit the commercial rights of the V-League and support VPF’s development and integration, especially as the private football management sector in Vietnam is still in its infancy.”
“Based on the cooperation agreement signed between the two sides, VPF will make specific cooperation plans for the purposes of improving the organization, management and operation of the leagues in the near future.”
In February, a similar agreement was signed with Thailand which sees the two –among other things- exchange information, coaches, referees, arrange friendly games and training camps and support marketing and other activities.
Thai fans can now see J-League games on television and Japan Dream Football Association (JDFA) representative Masao Kiba wants to help a south-east Asian player go to the J-League.
"I learnt from two years here that Thai players, especially the youngsters, are very good technically. I think if these players were able to train in a better environment, they would develop into top-class footballers," said Kiba.
"What these kids need is the opportunity to receive proper training. Young Thai players are just as good as their Japanese counterparts at the same age. I see no reason why Thais cannot play in the J-League.
"Anyone can have the dream of playing in the top leagues. If they believe they can do that, we'll try to help them achieve it. We want to make those dreams come true together.”