Paul Parker

Going global has become the norm

Paul Parker

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I was a little surprised to hear about the alleged abuse a few fans directed at Yossi Benayoun during Chelsea's recent friendly against Malaysia All-Stars in Kuala Lumpur.

It is a predominantly Muslim country, but even so I would have expected people there to just appreciate one of the Premier League's biggest clubs coming to town rather than take the opportunity to have a go at a player just because they happen to be from Israel. Still, it was good of the Malaysian FA to come out and apologise for anything bad a handful of people might have said. I suppose there are idiots wherever you go in the world.

The incident was barely mentioned here in Singapore, a nation which never usually needs an excuse to have a dig at its neighbour, especially after they recently beat them on a World Cup qualifier. That shows how little importance anyone in the region is attaching to the incident.

The people of the Malaysian capital have been spoiled this summer, what with Arsenal and Liverpool both coming to town before Chelsea did. Despite being the Premier League champions until just a couple of months ago, the Blues cannot hold a candle to either of those two sides in terms of popularity in South East Asia, especially Liverpool. The title may not have been held at Anfield for more than two decades, but they are still number one round these parts. If Liverpool ever do win the Premier League for the first time, the place would explode!

As I have mentioned previously, there are a few more blue shirts popping up here and there in this part of the world, but they will have to win a few more championships before they can truly hope to crack this market, currently so dominated by Liverpool and Manchester United.

And crack it they must. With UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules coming into effect, even clubs owned by billionaire oligarchs now have to start maximising potential revenue.

There is such an appetite for football in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, and they will accept any invitation to get involved. It is no wonder the ludicrous idea of a 39th game was mooted not so long ago. Chelsea are now in Hong Kong competing in the Asia Trophy, which also features Aston Villa and Blackburn. Even Rovers, who even cannot fill their own ground, are trying their best to win fans abroad, something a certain dubious advert is being used to do in India. 

There are potential pitfalls with going on pre-season tours halfway around the world, and Arsene Wenger has perhaps been the most vocal in expressing his fears over fatigue setting in among his players before the campaign has even started. But the Gunners choosing to clock up the air miles rather than have their usual low-key summer in Europe shows just how they have changed their tune. Besides, today's footballers are fitter than ever - they can handle the rigours of the extra travel and hostile climate far better than those of my generation could. Which is just as well, really, because the annual trip to at least one emerging market is now a bare necessity for any club that wants to make any decent money these days. Going global was once viewed with cynicism, but now it has become standard practice.

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