How the bad boy of Asian football Nasser Al Shamrani has added intrigue to the 2015 Asian Cup

Middle East Football Matters
AFC confirm eight match ban for Player of the Year Nasser Al Shamrani

Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona and Mario Ballotelli. We all love a bad boy or enfant terrible and even more so when they are super-talented. There may be a debate as to who was the better player between Pele and Maradona but whose autobiography would you prefer to read?

Asian football needs a few naughty boys as a little outrage goes a long way and gets plenty of play in the media. There haven't been enough to prick the continent's consciousness over the years.

On their way to the 2011 Asian Champions League title, Al Sadd became known as 'Al Badd' in South Korea, thanks to a controversial goal in the semi-final victory over Suwon Bluewings.

The K-League team had kicked the ball out so a player could receive treatment. While waiting for the Qataris to throw the ball back, the hosts were shocked to see the Al Sadd launch a surprise attack that delivered a decisive goal (these things are rarely as black and white as they are portrayed at the time and later, some Suwon defenders admitted privately that they had allowed their concentration to slip). Chaos ensued. Winning the final, also in Korea, thanks to a penalty shootout just added to the notoriety.

In some ways, it was refreshing to see the East Asian media talking about a club from the opposite end, an event rarely seen. Asia needs rivals that can break out of regional considerations and reach across the giant continent to become a source of bitterness, resentment, jealously or admiration - whatever works.

It was unfortunate that the AFC has a rule that doesn't allow champions to automatically defend their title. It would have been interesting indeed to see Al Sadd back in action far from home a few months later.

Now there is Nasser Al Shamrani. A few weeks ago, a question to Australian fans about preferred quarter-final opposition at the Asian Cup would unlikely have resulted in much enthusiasm for Saudi Arabia. The two countries have little knowledge of, or history with, each other. It is a little different now, and for that, we can thank the Al Hilal striker.

[RELATED: Al Shamrani named 2014 Asian Player of the Year despite spitting shame]

As well as a contest to find the best in the continent, the Asian Cup has also to be entertainment. And with Al Shamrani cast as the villain, the continental tournament gets a little boost in profile.

Here is a player from West Asia who is going to be the subject of plenty of attention as soon as he arrives down under. If there was such interest over his ability instead, that would be even better, but for now, we take what we can get. It is all about making people care and now Australian fans and media do care about this striker and his team.

Journalists are going to ask over and over again about the incident in the Asian Champions League final. For those who don't know, the striker spat at Western Sydney Wanderers defender Matthew Spiranovic as the Australians started celebrating an unlikely triumph at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. It was an ugly incident and almost sparked a massive brawl just seconds before the trophy was to be awarded, not the kind of image Asian football wants to project to the rest of the world.

In Manila last week, I had the opportunity to ask the attacker known as 'The Earthquake' a question as he was one the shortlist of three to be named the Asian Player of the Year, thanks to an impressive 10 goals for Al Hilal in the Champions League.

I asked him if he felt that the spitting controversy would damage his chances of winning the prize. He said that it would not and that his action was a normal reaction to the verbal abuse he had been subjected to by Spiranovic. Al Shamrani would not elaborate on the kind of language used and made a quick exit, pursued by a suddenly excited press pack. That was a little disappointing. If you say that you have been abused then you have to reveal exactly what happened.

It added further fuel to the fire and while we publicly shake our heads, we also realise that it is through such incidents that history is made and feelings forged. Al Shamrani has not behaved especially well in the past few weeks but overall he has done Asian football a great service even if, hours after lifting the Asian Player of the Year trophy, he was hit with an eight-match ban for his spitting.

He can still play at the Asian Cup, however, where he could become public enemy No1 all over again. It is debatable as to whether he deserves to be Asian Player of the Year but Nasser Al Shamrani is doing very well in a role that is almost as important – the bad boy of the continental football scene.

* John Duerden is a Middle East and Asia football correspondent for Yahoo Maktoob Sports as well as the Guardian, ESPN & World Soccer. He also writes for New York Times, AP, Daily Telegraph and various other Asia media outlets. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnnyDuerden