With the 2012 edition of the AFC Champions League down to eight, it is now an even more prevalent that there is Adelaide United and then there is the rest.
Whenever an Australian club fronts up against some of the biggest, wealthiest clubs in Asia, it is often about David v Goliath, minnows against might – so ahead of the Quarter Finals, we thought we would highlight the stature of the other seven clubs that the Reds could find themselves up against.
Ulsan Hyundai is a South Korean football club, owned by Korean corporation Hyundai Heavy Industries, a South Korean conglomerate which employs over 24,000 staff and has an annual turnover of more than $30 billion dollars. Sixth place finishers in the K-League regular season in 2011 and runners-up in the post-season playoffs, Ulsan Hyundai have won two K-League titles and come second on six occasions.
Based in the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent, Bunyodkor is owned by Uzbekgas, an oil and gas exploration company with an annual turnover in excess of $2 billion dollars employing 124,000 staff. In 2008, former World Player of the Year and Brazilian superstar Rivaldo joined Bunyodkor on a reported $14 million dollar, two-year contract. His countryman, Brazilian World Cup legend Zico, signed on shortly after to manage the club in a one-year deal on a multi million dollar salary.
Also known as Itti, it is a Saudi Arabian club based in Jeddah. Al Ittihad’s major sponsor is the Saudi Telecommunications Company, a government owned communications provider with an annual revenue of more than $15 billion. Al-Ittihad has won eight Saudi league titles and holds 45 official championships. It also has a lofty reputation for being the oldest still-surviving and most successful clubs in Saudi Arabia.
The club has won two Asian Champions League titles, in 2004 and 2005, and is the only club to have won the AFC Champions League in consecutive years. Al Ittihad reportedly has over eight million fans in Saudi Arabia alone and in December 2006, in what was thought to be the most lucrative deal in Arabian football, the club offered Portuguese midfielder Luís Figo a multi-million dollar a year deal.
Another Saudi Arabian club, Al-Hilal is based in the country's capital Riyadh. It holds 53 official championships since its founding in 1957 (a record 36 national championships, as well as six Asian championships and seven Arab & Gulf Championships). Al-Hilal has a reputation for being the most widely supported club in Saudi Arabia.
The club's president is a son of the King of Saudi Arabia Musad bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, who along with other board members, pay any extra money required to run the club, the total extra expenses of the club in recent seasons surpassing $50 million. This increase is due to the high level of foreign and national players the club has recently signed such as Thiago Neves, Mirel Radoi, Christian Wilhelmsson, Osama Hawsawi, Youssef El-Arabi among others.
The third and final Saudi Arabian club in the last eight is Al-Ahli Saudi Sports Club, which is based in Jeddah. They were AFC Champions League Runners Up in 1986 and currently have around 70 major sponsors; most of them from the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia and some of Saudi’s richest businessmen. The club’s biggest backer is the Prince Khaled Abdulallh al-saud.
China’s only representative in the Quarter Finals, Guangzhou Evergrande, is owned by the Evergrande Real Estate Group, one of the largest real estate developers in mainland China. The Evergrande Real Estate Group currently owns 45.8 million square metres of development land and real estate projects across 22 cities in China. Before the club returned to China’s top flight, the Chinese Super League, the Evergrande Group promised even bigger spending to strengthen the team as it added five national team players.
The transfer of Brazilian Cléo from Football Club Partizan set the new record transfer fee of $5 million. Alongside Cléo, the club brought in Korean national squad player Cho Won-Hee, Brazilian defender Paulo and his countryman, midfielder Renato, the transfer fees in total registering $16 million. By early July 2011, the club signed Argentinian Darío Conca, again with a record-breaking $10 million transfer fee. With the newly built Evergrande Football Training facility included, the Evergrande Group injected up to $96 million into the club in 2011.
Three weeks ago legendary Italian World Cup winning Coach Marecello Lippi was appointed as Head Coach and on 2 May 2012, Guangzhou Evergrande announced that they had officially signed Paraguayan Barrios on a four-year deal for a domestic record fee of $15 million. In his move to Guangzhou Evergrande, Barrios will earn $12million a year. If that was not not enough, recently departed AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf has flown to China to hold talks with Guangzhou Evergrande, the club hoping to convince him to continue his career in China with a two-year contract worth $11 million-a-season.
An Iranian football club based in Isfahan, Sepahan competes in Iran's top flight, better known as the Persian Gulf League (PGL). Sepahan hold most of the records in the PGL and are the reigning champions having secured the title for a record fourth time in the PGL’s eleven year history. The club is also the first and only one to have won the title in consecutive seasons (2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12). Furthermore, Sepahan became the first non-Tehran based side to win the title when they were victorious in 2002/03.
Even earlier on, Sepahan were one of the most successful football clubs in Iran during the 1980s and are one of only six clubs who have been present in every season of the PGL. They were also the first Iranian club to reach the Asian Champions League final in 2007, which resulted in securing a place in the FIFA Club World Cup in the same year.
The club is the football division of Foolad Mobarakeh Sepahan Sport Club and is owned by the giant steel company Mobarakeh Steel Co, which is Iran's largest steel maker and one of the largest industrial complexes operating in Iran as it employs over 6,000 staff.