Southeast Asia has the next biggest economic and football market capacity.
The football world is constantly looking for new markets to push the world’s most popular sport to further heights amongst the sporting masses and over the past few decades, its eyes have turned to the East and Southeast part of the world. With the exception of Philippines, Football has long been the most popular sport amongst the rest of the nations in the ASEAN region. Over the last decade, ASEAN nations have begun to make strides towards expanding the football market through significant investments in sporting infrastructure and football leagues, be it private or public investments.
At this time, In Southeast Asia Vietnam is crowned at 97th position, followed by Thailand in 111th place, Philippines (134th), Malaysia (147th), and Indonesia (155th). While some may think, given the region’s population and enthusiasm for the sport, these countries are underachieving, many investors see a huge potential market with great upside over the next decade. The past few years have already seen a rise in foreign investments in ASEAN football. Back in November 2019, ASEAN Heads of States witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ASEAN and FIFA by the Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi and FIFA President Gianni Infantino. The MoU marks the establishment of a formal cooperation between the two entities to leverage the roles of football in social development in ASEAN. In 2021, FIFA inaugurated the renovated Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore towards which it had contributed US$2.5 million. Indonesia is set to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2023 – only the second time the tournament will be staged in South-east Asia after Malaysia in 1997, which will give a good glimpse into what the region can do.
As things stand, the two countries at the forefront of football success are Vietnam and Thailand. They have performed well at a domestic as well as international level compared to other nations in the region. Vietnam has considerable potential in terms of its population and the growing enthusiasm for the game. The V League became professional in 2000 with some clubs now attracting upto 20,000 fans a game. The Vietnam’s national football team since 2018 has been called the Golden Generation with impressive performances such as winning the 2018 ASEAN Football Federation championship, a great run to the quarterfinals of the 2019 Asia Cup by defeating better teams like Jordan.
Thailand on the other hand has had a lot of commercial success. Since 2007, the domestic league in the country has gone from strength to strength and has seen the rise of several clubs that have constructed brand new stadia and excellent training facilities. In the region, Thailand has the most successful football team with six AFF Championship trophies and nine senior-level gold medals from the Southeast Asian Games. Before the greater professionalisation of the Thai game over the last decade, the country’s top players had to go to Singapore, Vietnam or Malaysia to develop their careers. Now, it is players outside Thailand who cast envious glances towards a country whose league has the best teams and the highest salaries. The Football Association of Thailand unveiled plans for youth leagues that they hope will give the country a fighting chance of qualification for the 2026 World Cup. This potential as well as massive investment showcase that the overall picture is healthy and interest in the domestic game has boomed since the days when everyone’s favourite team was Manchester United or Liverpool.
On the interim, Southeast Asia remains a comparatively unknown capacity in world football but with the planned developments over the past few years and investment of resources, the future looks bright for the rapidly developing region. The slow and steady professionalisation of the game can reap rewards if development is well managed. FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup brings the dream of qualification closer of the likes of Thailand and Vietnam. Their aims will be to first establish themselves among Asia’s elite to catapult themselves as powerhouse nations in the football world.
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