Emmanuel Petit in Bangkok for League Cup draw, upbeat about Asia growth
French World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit believes the future of football lies in Asia, and says he is delighted by the development of the game on the continent.
The former Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder was in Bangkok on Friday to assist with the draw for the 2017-18 Carabao Cup -- the recently renamed English League Cup -- and he saw the rapid steps being made in the place he has grown to love.
Petit admits the idea of him coming to Bangkok to make the draw for an English cup competition would have seemed outlandish while he was still plying his trade in the Premier League almost 20 years ago. But he has embraced Thailand and Asia since he started travelling here.
"When I was a player, I could never have imagined coming to Thailand for the draw of the English League Cup but Thailand is now like my second home," Petit told ESPN FC. "For a long time, I have been coming to Thailand with my family every year.
"I am a big fan of Asia, particularly Thailand, and now that the future of football seems to be in Asia, I'm really pleased."
It is a sign of the times when the English League Cup first-round draw is made in Bangkok by a French World Cup winner in a German-style beer hall. That was the scene on Friday night as the tournament's sponsors Carabao -- a Thai energy drink manufacturer -- brought some English football glamour to Southeast Asia.
Petit, along with English Football League (EFL) chairman Shaun Harvey, British Ambassador to Thailand Brian Davidson and Sathien Setthasit, the CEO of Carabao, pulled out the names of the teams to compete in the competition's ties to take place from Aug. 7.
There can be a cynical attitude to this kind of event from fans with a more traditional view of football, but Petit insisted that this kind of initiative was beneficial.
"Fortunately, we live in a world where people look to the future," Petit said. "I can understand people who wish that things stayed as they always have been but, at the same time, you have to open up.
"For clubs to develop economically, it is very important to open up globally. For that, there are a lot of very important markets. Those who want the draw to stay in England should remember that the renaissance of the Premier League was built by foreign players."
Petit was a double winner with Arsenal in 1998, but the League Cup eluded him in his three years at the Gunners, and his three seasons at Chelsea. He acknowledges that this is partly due to the fact that clubs often use the tournament to blood younger players, but feels that it offers excellent opportunities to the most promising stars of tomorrow.
"Let's not kid ourselves, for the biggest clubs, the domestic cups take the least priority -- the league title and the Champions League come first," said Petit. "But when clubs realise that these objectives are beyond them, the domestic cups immediately take on greater importance.
"In terms of giving young players their chance, it ensures that clubs give important playing time to players who might otherwise go somewhere else. It helps them develop, gives them experience of playing in front of big crowds and under pressure.
"Some excellent players have made their first-team debuts in the League Cup, like David Beckham, John Terry and Cesc Fabregas."
Petit still follows his former club's fortunes closely and hopes that Arsene Wenger's decision to sign a contract extension pays dividends.
"I think that Arsene has been through three tough years and the fans are split into two sides," Petit said. "We've also seen Alexis Sanchez speak out in the media and I understand why he did that.
"Arsenal haven't been able to compete with other big clubs in the transfer market, and they haven't been able to attract the biggest players because of their salary cap. And the academy no longer seems to be producing the same quality of players.
"I think that Arsene has understood this year's frustration from the fans and I think Arsenal will make some decisive moves. They recently made an approach for Monaco's Kylian Mbappe and they were ready to spend 100 million euros.
"There is a lot of competition for Mbappe, but if they are ready to spend 100 million on him, they have money to spend on other players, and that's a positive sign for the players and supporters. It could even persuade Sanchez to stay because, for me, he's the boss in this team.
"But, of course, it's not just about money, it's about developing a winning mentality and that's what has been missing for a number of years."
Back in Asia, Petit is looking forward to another holiday in Thailand, and admits he will be keeping an eye on the Thai football.
"Every year, I watch Thai football on TV," said Petit. "In two weeks, I will be back here with my family. I'm going to be here for six weeks and I get back to Europe in the middle of August in time for the restart of the Premier League. So, while I'm here, I always watch some Thai football and Asian football."
The draw itself didn't go as smoothly as hoped for, with Charlton Athletic being drawn twice in a mishap. With only clubs in the EFL included at this stage, there are no heavyweight clashes, though Cardiff City versus resurgent Portsmouth looks like an intriguing one.
The initiative of holding the draw abroad further cements Thailand's connections with English football. The Thai owners of Leicester City have made much of their home country's links to the 2016 English champions and Carabao themselves owned Championship side Reading FC before selling their stake in the club earlier this year. Sheffield Wednesday are another second-tier English club who are owned by Thai business leaders.
Football fans often voice resistance to this kind of event, with some fearing the often mooted introduction of competitive fixtures in other countries. Harvey didn't dismiss the idea out of hand, but did acknowledge that it was some way off.
"It's certainly an interesting concept," Harvey told ESPN FC. "The clubs have recently looked at the principle and the immediate reaction is to play the 23 league games at home.
"Obviously, cup games create a different opportunity, but at this time, there is no plan to go down that particular route. However, innovative partnerships like this between Carabao and the EFL could lead to any number of opportunities in the future.
"The challenge in the English game is always the crowded fixture list and the additional travel time that is required for a midweek competition. But we are an innovative organisation, we are an innovative league and we would always look at opportunities."
Paul Murphy has lived in Thailand for nine years, contributing to ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express (UK) sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK