The J-League's seeing the potential, but will the A-League miss out on the football revolution happening on its doorstep in South-East Asia?
The recently completed ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, featuring the likes of Thailand, Vietnam (the eventual winner) Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and the Philippines was a timely reminder that football on Australia's doorstep is booming.
Last year the Socceroos experienced how good Thailand are, struggling to contain them both home and away in World Cup qualification.
And rising power Vietnam was the eventual winner of the 2018 Suzuki Cup defeating Malaysia last weekend, winning a two-legged final after a 1-0 win at a rocking My Dinh stadium in Hanoi (the first leg ended 2-2 in Kuala Lumpur).
The star of the whole tournament was a pint-sized, electric 21-year-old for the Golden Dragons - Vietnam's Nguyen Quang Hai was the MVP for best player.
He is a playmaker with a penchant for goals and a sweet left peg and was a joy to watch as he bossed games with his vision and skill.
Does his name sound familiar? It was his goal that helped Vietnam defeat an A-League stacked Olyroos 1-0 in January at the AFC U-23 Championships (where the Australians lost twice in the group stage).
Former NSL player turned TV pundit in Asia, PJ Roberts, says the Vietnamese magician would be ideal for the A-League and, given his qualities, would be a real fan favourite.
"He can play in central midfield or further forward. He has excellent desire and intensity to his performances with a real maturity,” the pundit for Fox Sports Asia told FTBL.com.au
"Left-footed players are always in demand. He has the ability to go past opponents in a 1v1 situation, is fast and explosive both with and without the ball and can create space for himself and teammates.”
Australia would’ve sat up and taken notice of the playmaker after he scored five goals in January as Vietnam finished runners-up at the AFC U-23 Championship.
"He has incisive and penetrative passing with a decent passing range. He is only 21 so still plenty of room for improvement," added Roberts.
It's been reported that J-League clubs are after his services in addition to the potential of clubs in Qatar; including giants Al-Saad, who have Spanish legend Xavi on their books.
Why not the A-League, though?
Imagine the local Vietnamese fans who'd flock to see their hero? From a marketing sense, it’d be a boon. He would also be the first Vietnamese player to play in the A-League.
And the rising star at 21 may benefit from a season or two in Australia before a move to the J-League (where a number of Thai players are already plying their trade including the hugely talented Chanathip Songkrasin).
South-East Asia is moving in the right direction in terms of talent, particularly with youth development. Much of Vietnam and the region's development can be traced back to the Hoang Ahn Gia Lai (HAGL) academy in Vietnam.
Well-run and with technical help from Arsenal after an agreement signed in 2007, this is a long-term project assisting some of the best players in South-East Asia. And the architect of Belgian youth development and former FFA technical director, Eric Abrams, is now in the role in Myanmar.
There are others, not just this rising star of Vietnamese football, says Robbie Cornthwaite.
"It's been mentioned a number of times by Aussie journalists over here in Asia (and it's) what these guys have been saying for a long time in the Asian Leagues, in particular," the former Socceroo and current pundit on Malaysian television told FTBL.
"South-East Asia are becoming viable options for Australian clubs. Just the fact that you had three Thai players in the J-League last season and there was a Vietnamese player in J2, and a Thai goalkeeper playing in Belgium shows you how fast they are developing here.
“You can see the infrastructure and the development are really moving forward with all the money that they're pouring in, it dwarfs what Australia is spending on development in the youth sector.
“These guys are rising rapidly in the world rankings and the football they're playing is actually very, very good.
“We saw Thailand pushing Australia in their World Cup qualifiers recently. They want to become powerhouses in football and with their population and the money it can happen.
“Australia will be looking over their shoulder at these types of nations in years to come.
“It’s now time for A-League clubs to cast an eye over South-East Asia.”