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JFA President Saburo Kawabuchi highlighted the bad times and the good times of Japanese football as he emphasized the significance of club development for the improvement of Asian football in his speech at the AFC Congress on Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur
Kawabuchi called for understanding and cooperation in order to carry out the AFC Professional League reform project.
"Japanese football was terrible before," Kawabuchi said in a speech titled "The Future of Professional Football in Asia," which he delivered to AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam, the AFC's Executive Committee, the presidents of the other 45 member associations and FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Kawabuchi, who is chairman of the AFC Professional League Ad-Hoc Committee, showed scenes from the non-professional Japan Soccer League - the forerunner of the J. League - which included empty stadiums, poor facilities and poor performances.

He contrasted these with key moments and decisions that helped in the launch of the J. League, as well as the inaugural match of the nation's first professional league in 1993. The video also featured exciting plays and enthusiastic reactions from fans.

"I fully understand that the circumstances and background of the leagues in each country are different. Therefore, what made the J. League successful cannot always be applied to your league."

"However, I can assure you that your strong determination to make a drastic change in a positive way will definitely make a big difference down the road. What’s more, I think it overlaps with the reformation of the AFC Champions League, too."

"What we achieved with the J. League can undoubtedly be achieved in each country in Asia," Kawabuchi noted.

He stressed that Asian football can raise its standards with a solid backbone of good club development across the region. The JFA president noted that forming a professional league in each Asian country and creating an attractive regional competition - the AFC Champions League - where "the most powerful Asian clubs can participate,” would be key points "to have a national team from Asia win the FIFA world Cup."

Kawabuchi added: "The level of football in Asia has risen tremendously in recent years. But unfortunately, we are still not close to the top level in the world yet. The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany was a good example. Excluding Australia, not one Asian country advanced from the group stage."

"We need to drastically develop the clubs in each country in order to make a breakthrough, and this will directly affect the development of the national team."

The former J. League chairman explained the high standards and requirements needed to make a sound professional league. These included establishing leagues as a legal entity, employing licensed coaches and having a certain number of professional players per club, creating good stadiums and training facilities, implementing a strong youth development structure and basing teams in a home town.

"We will need to set ourselves high standards to achieve this, like it was with the J. League. There will be no excuses even if it will be a tough mission," said Kawabuchi.

"The AFC Champions League will be the motivation for the success of professional leagues in Asia. Clubs will not only be representatives of a country, but also representatives of Asia - and representatives of the world. The dreams of clubs, players and supporters will be linked to the world."

"I have a strong unbreakable determination to implement this project."

Kawabuchi ended his speech by saying: "There will be no second chance for the development of Asian football if we don't make it happen now. Now is the time to stand together and be true competitors of the world. By having a big dream and making untiring efforts to progress, the dream will come true."

He received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

The AFC launched the Pro-League reform project last May and has appointed the JFA to serve as the project secretariat. The new AFC Champions League is scheduled to be launched in 2009.
Extracts of JFA President Saburo Kawabuchi speech at the AFC Congress.

●Interview with FIFA President Blatter

●Interview with AFC President Hammam