| Ballack is the league’s promo mascot
Berlin: While English champions Manchester United have been making promotional trips to various parts of Asia for the past few years, clubs in the Bundesliga are just beginning to tap into the vast financial football market to be found in the Far East.
Bayern Munich, Germany’s most successful club with 18 championships to its name, planned to tour Asia in 2003 only for the outbreak of the SARS virus to postpone their promotional trip until 2004.
Bayern have also assembled a special team to translate sporting updates into Japanese on their official homepage and are using the popular midfielder Michael Ballack, who shone for Germany in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, to front their image in Asia.
This is a path followed by Manchester United who helped David Beckham, now at Real Madrid, obtain a god-like status in the Far East.
“A club that considers itself global must tap into the Asian market,” explained Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness to German magazine Kicker.
However, Hoeness was quick to emphasise that they would not sign a Chinese, Japanese or South Korean footballer if he could not hold his own in the German top-flight.
“Bayern will never sign a player from Asia if he will not improve our team,” vowed Hoeness.
VfL Wolfsburg general manager Peter Pander adopts the same policy and feels the physical nature of the Bundesliga makes life difficult for players from Asia.
“Asia is interesting but the players are with all respect not ready for the Bundesliga,” declared Pander.
While German champions Bayern have yet to sign a star from the Far East some German clubs have with SV Hamburg, 1860 Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt all recruiting Asian talent.
Hamburg signed Japanese international striker Naohiro Takahara at the start of the season and the financial benefits have certainly become evident for the cash-strapped club.
More than 10,000 Hamburg shirts emblazoned with Takahara’s name have been sold in his homeland and Hamburg have also struck a handsome sponsorship deal with Japanese electronic giants Casio.
“If Japanese footballers play in the Bundesliga Japanese sponsors will be interested in the clubs,” explained Yasuhiko Okudera, a former Bundesliga player.
Okudera now works for Japanese television channel Wowow who broadcast Hamburg games live in Japan.
Takahara, 24, is adapting to life in the Bundesliga and has shown glimpses of his striking instincts this season with a goal in the 4-2 League Cup win over Borussia Dortmund raising his stock.
Chinese international Jiayi Shao, 23, arrived at 1860 Munich in the close season for one million euros and 1860 intend to tour Asia with Shao next summer to show there are two football teams in Munich.
Meanwhile, South Korean striker Du-Ri Cha is at Eintracht Frankfurt after an impressive 2002 World Cup showing. It seems even the so-called smaller clubs have big ambitions in Asia.