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Why United needs to look to Asia

Manton St Tales

If there was a silver lining in Adelaide United’s loss to Western Sydney on Friday night, it was that we witnessed a wonderful display from one of the A-League’s recent acquisitions. Unfortunately he plays for Wanderers.

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Jumpei Kusukami had already produced an excellent performance in the Sydney derby despite his side’s 0-4 loss.

And without him, Wanderers may not have stunned United with their come from behind victory.

Yes Brendon Šantalab scored the goals; yes Mitch Nichols provided the assists (a somewhat limited measure). But Jumpei played a crucial part in both moves.

The first Wanderers goal began at the back with Argentine Nicolás Martínez sending a lofted pass across the field to the Japanese midfielder.

It put Jumpei under pressure – Tarek Elrich was bearing down on him and a turnover could have been costly.

But his first-time touch found midfield colleague Dimas and the successful attack was launched.

Jumpei’s role in Western Sydney’s second goal was a thing of beauty. He received the ball from Nichols around 10 metres outside the penalty area and his defence-splitting return pass was timed and weighted to perfection. It allowed Nichols to tee up Šantalab’s winner.

Wanderers’ latest Japanese signing – Jumpei is the fourth in the club’s short history – shows that A-League clubs can find experienced Asian players that provide value for money and are good enough to improve their squads.

And I really wish Adelaide United had one.

For when the Reds’ 2017 Asian Champions League campaign begins in February, two of the club’s five permanent visa players will be ineligible.

Earlier this year – when United had a playoff match to reach the Champions League group stage – Isaías, Marcelo Carrusca and Sergio Cirio were selected but Iacopo La Rocca and Pablo Sánchez had to be left out.

The competition’s rules limit a participating club to three foreign players (the A-League allows five) but a fourth is allowed if the player is from another Asian country.

United released Sánchez less than a week after his goal sealed May’s grand final win. The club could have replaced him with an Asian but instead brought in another Spaniard, Sergi Guardiola.

For the A-League, it looks a good signing. Guardiola is a genuine centre forward – something the team needed – and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t score a few times this season. He nearly got his first for the Reds on Friday night and played an important part in the build up to the goal finished by Henrique.

But he can’t play in the Asian Champions League … unless United omits one of the three players it selected for the 2016 campaign.

The Reds could also have signed an Asian after the 2014/15 A-League season ended, however, after releasing Miguel Palanca they brought La Rocca to the club.

If La Rocca gains Australian citizenship this year, United would have one final chance to sign an Asian import (who would be eligible for both the A-League and the ACL) but that wouldn’t help the Italian defender. He’ll still probably miss out on the continental competition as it doesn’t allow players to use a citizenship acquired less than 12 months before it begins.

The only real option left for United to sign an Asian if La Rocca doesn’t get his citizenship in time would be to bring one in for the ACL only. The problem there is the competition’s group phase begins on 20 February and ends on 10 May and you’re asking someone to play just six times in that period.

I first wrote about this subject nearly 18 months ago and, because I’m a nice guy, I even suggested a couple of Asian players who might have been worth looking at.

Since then I’ve had some conversations with relevant people at the club about whether they’re looking at signing anyone from the region but they’ve never seemed particularly keen. Indeed, only two Asians have played in the A-League for Adelaide United. Chinese striker Shengqing Qu was a crowd favourite at Hindmarsh a decade ago; Korean In-Seob Shin made the last of his 21 appearances in the 2010/11 season.

If he’s retained, young Danny Choi, currently an injury replacement for Marcelo Carrusca, could be the Asian foreign player in United’s ACL squad.

But a player like Jumpei Kusukami – with plenty of top flight experience in one of Asia’s strongest leagues – can bring a lot of value both on the pitch and off it as that could boost the Reds’ ACL challenge as well as broaden interest in the club both here and elsewhere in the region.

Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.

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