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39th game to take back seat - for now

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Mihir Bose | 15:13 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

One very interested spectator to the spat between Football Association chairman Lord Triesman and Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore at Tuesday's Leaders in Football Conference at Stamford Bridge was Mohammed bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation.

In other countries, in Europe and particularly Asia, such a row would be impossible as most leagues are part of the national association and not a separate body as in this country. However, Bin Hammam is well aware of how big a beast the Premier League is and the considerable impact it has on his own continent.

The growth of the J. League in Japan has lessened fears that English football is taking too tight a hold, but the Premier League has a huge following in Asia nevertheless - and not always to the benefit of local soccer.

Bin Hammam is due to meet Scudamore during his visit to London and has plans for future co-operation between his confederation and the Premier League. This will include Premier League clubs twinning with ones in Asia - in the way cities twin themselves - in order to promote the development of grass roots football.

The AFC may also look to adopt a Uefa-style regulation which would allow it to decide when Premier League broadcasts of matches may be beamed into the continent. Uefa rules allow countries to ban broadcasts of matches from abroad when league matches are going on in their country, such as Saturday and Sunday afternoons in this country. The Asians may opt for a similar ban.

But what about the 39th game which, when proposed by the Premier League last year, was opposed by Bin Hammam? In August, during the Beijing Olympics, Fifa president Sepp Blatter told me that the Premier League had discussed with Bin Hammam plans for playing some Carling Cup matches in Asia. However, I understand that the issue of the 39th game will NOT be on the agenda for this week's meeting between Bin Hammam and Scudamore.

The buzzword now is "co-operation", with more planned between the Premier League and the AFC to avoid the sort of confrontation the controversial 39th-game proposal generated.

However, Scudamore clearly has not ruled out a 39th game in some form or other. On Tuesday, he said: "Will it come back in the original form? Probably not... Will it come back in another form? Probably likely." He added: "You can't patronise the fans by playing meaningless matches and playing exhibition matches for ever. The audience abroad is not silly. They are sophisticated and they want really meaningful matches."

With the credit crunch having an impact on soccer, and Asia still providing a possible growth area for the Premier League, Scudamore clearly feels a 39th game is still viable but is clearly keen to avoid confrontation next time around.


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