Asian footballers need stronger character and must take the game more seriously to succeed on the world stage, says former Real Madrid and Blackburn Rovers rightback Michel Salgado.
“Character is important in competition. I live in the Middle East. I’ve been watching the Asian Cup and also the AFC Champions League. I know the situation,” said the former Spanish international, who was in Kuala Lumpur for a promotional event at the National Sports Complex in Bukit Jalil on Friday.
“In Europe and South America, football is almost a religion.
“It’s different here. Football is just a hobby, just a game. That makes the players in Asia a little bit more naive.”
But Salgado, now an assistant coach with the Egypt national team, insists the quality of Asian football has improved – thanks to the strength of their leagues.
He said the emergence of the Indian Super League, Chinese Super League and Australian A-League had attracted world-class talents and coaches.
“I think the gap is closing everywhere. When we started to play, there were five essential leagues. Right now, you’ve got important leagues in India, China and Australia,” said Salgado.
“These leagues bring top-class talents. This will only add quality to the league and will raise the standard of local players.
“Players now have many options to broaden their career. In the past, South Americans and Europeans opt to play in top leagues in Europe, but now that has changed.
“You see Brazilians, Spaniards and Argentinians playing in leagues in Asia. That’s good news, and the gap in quality is getting smaller now.”
When asked which South-East Asian team he follows, the 43-year-old said he was surprised with the meteoric rise of Vietnam in Asian football.
“They performed well in the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.”