The Asian Champions League has not been kind to Australian clubs since the Western Sydney Wanderers were crowned kings in 2014.
What was celebrated as a defining moment in Australian football has since been overshadowed by a tumultuous five years of controversy in the game’s governance back home, as well as uninspiring performances from A-League sides in the tournament.
Since then only Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC in 2016 have been the only Australian representatives to make it out of the group stage, albeit both sides finished bottom of their respective groups last season.
This recent rut in the Asian Champions League has exacerbated concerns about Australia’s ability to remain competitive in Asia, as the continent’s standard continues to improve.
Ante Covic, who won the tournament with the Wanderers in 2014, believes the tournament’s significance deserves greater emphasis in Australia.
“Those games to me were a huge buzz because you’re playing against the best and in Australia unfortunately, we do put that to the side,” he said.
“It’s kind of like we have the chance to play someone with an unlimited budget and have the chance to beat the best teams in the world and you have to emphasise that.
“Every cup competition around the world is huge…I think we have to build that hype and mentality here in Australia.
“It’s disappointing to me when in qualifying games when we play teams from Thailand or lower ranked teams and we don’t take it seriously and it’s not a big deal.
“To me it is a big deal, I don’t want to see Australian teams lose in a qualifier from a team from Malaysia or Thailand and not get to the Champions League it’s a little bit embarrassing for me.”
Covic was named player of the tournament in 2014 and was greeted with a Beatles-like welcome upon return to Sydney by the Wanderers supporters.
“To get off the plane and see the international departures pretty much in lock-down full of supporters going ballistic was a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.
“We expected people to be there but what happened that night was quite phenomenal the whole process of the Asian Champions League winning the title and coming home with all that buzz, it’s hard to imagine anything like that will be repeated.”