SHANGHAI (AFP) - AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam sees a rosy future for Asian clubs, believing they will one day be able to compete with their European counterparts.
His enthusiasm stems from a major revamp of the AFC Champions League which takes effect next year.
Asia's top club competition will be expanded from 28 to 32 teams but with stricter criteria for participation in an effort to raise standards.
And in a huge boost to the tournament, prize money will be massively increased to 14 million dollars, with the eventual winners taking home 1.5 million dollars plus bonuses from earlier rounds.
"We have been working on it for three years. It was in the drafting stage until now," he said on the sidelines of the Asian Football Confederation's annual awards ceremony and end-of-year meetings.
"Next year, we are going to implement it and in the future we hope the Asian league will be able to compete with Europe."
The AFC is attempting to make football in the region more professional and has laid down tough new rules for entry into the 2009 Champions League.
Leagues wishing to take part have had to satisfy the governing body that they meet certain standards regarding team affairs, attendances, marketing, stadiums and media arrangements.
So far only 11 countries have made the grade, with just one -- Japan's J-League -- satisfying all criteria.
Each ACL team will be able to field a maximum of four foreign players, one of whom must be from an Asian country.
Bin Hammam, touted as a successor to FIFA president Sepp Blatter when his term runs out in 2011, stressed that clubs must become more professional.
"Officials must be paid and players have to be paid generously," he said.
"We have 46 member nations in the confederation but hardly 10 countries are competitive."
He added that ultimately football was about entertainment and crowds would only come to watch if they got their money's worth.
"The end product has to be entertaining. Football is all about entertainment. You can't expect fans to come and watch a boring game."
The new-look AFC Champions League will be officially launched ahead of the Club World Cup in Tokyo next month, which features continental champions, including Manchester United.
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