Kuala Lumpur: Asia’s premier club football competition marked a decade of remarkable progress on Wednesday during the much-anticipated AFC Champions League 2018 Knockout Stage draw at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur.
The AFC Champions League was launched in 2002 as a successor to the Asian Club Championship, but 2009 marked a historic shift to enhance the stature of the competition and its transformation into one of the world’s best club continental tournaments.
AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John, said: “In 2009, the AFC marked a new era of professionalism in Asian club football. It paved the way for a bigger, better and richer AFC Champions League competition.
“A decade later, we have a club competition few in the world can match. From record attendances to greater fan engagement, the AFC Champions League continues to capture imaginations in Asia and beyond. Above all, it provides the ultimate stage for the stars of the Asian game to shine.
“I would like to thank the clubs, the AFC Member Associations, the fans and our commercial and media partners who have played a pivotal role to ensure the success of the AFC Champions League, not just for this season but for the decades of continental club football.”
After conducting extensive research and gathering the feedback of Member Associations as well as key commercial partners, the AFC launched several key initiatives in 2009 to set in motion the AFC Champions League’s significant rise in the last decade.
Robust admissions criteria
Recognising the value and positive impact of club development, strict entry requirements were introduced in 2009 allowing only clubs and leagues with the highest professional commercial entities to participate in the competition.
The participation criteria and principles launched in 2009, which saw 10 Member Associations earn direct entry into the group stages and four other countries going through the play-offs for two berths, set the tone for today’s competition.
In 2018, 11 Member Associations received an automatic bye into the group stages and another nine countries participated in the preliminary and play-off stages.
Improved format and more teams
The format synonymous with the AFC Champions League today was established in 2009 when the competition was expanded to 32 teams. Eight groups of four teams were divided into East and West regions, with two teams from the group stage, instead of one, progressing to the Knockout Stage.
Prize money increase
The 2009 edition also started the gradual and continuous growth of the prize money as it grew nearly threefold to USD$1.5m, from USD$600,000 the year before. Today, the AFC Champions League is one of the richest continental club competitions in the world, second only to UEFA, with this year’s winners set to receive the largest-ever reward of US$4m, up from US$3m last year.
The competition was given a new logo in 2009, which was designed to represent a more dynamic landscape with a broader audience in mind. Subsequently, the AFC Champions League logo was refreshed in 2017 to reflect the progress of the competition. The logo for the 2018 edition will feature new elements commemorating the ten years of club glory.
Success on the world stage
The AFC Champions League has provided the ultimate platform for Asian champions to shine on the world stage, with the winners qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup.
In the last decade, Asian teams have finished impressively in the top four on five occasions - top three in 2011 and 2015 and Kashima Antlers (JPN) came close as runners-up in 2016.
The landmark changes inaugurated in 2009 also paved the way for greater engagement among Asia’s passionate fans.
The 2015 Champions League remains in the history books for providing breathtaking football for a record 2.28 million spectators.
It was the second time spectatorship surpassed the two million mark in the past five years, reaffirming the competition’s position as one of the leading club tournaments in the world.
To honour the Continent’s passionate fans, the-AFC.com will run a series of contests with attractive prizes at stake leading up to the coveted final in November. Further details will be revealed in due course.