Big soccer dreams
Anita Yang, The China Post
June 3, 2014, 9:46 am TWN
As the world anticipates the approaching FIFA World Cup tournament, soccer fans in Taiwan are also marking their calendars and planning to follow the games. Watching soccer stars soaring down the field, islanders can't help but ask: "Does Taiwan stand a chance of being in the World Cup one day?" Many probably find the idea ridiculous and impossible, but there is one person with the determined goal of taking this small island to the 2026 World Cup. He is Judan Ali.
Ambitious Dream and Determined Soul
Ali, with his high ideas, is a soccer coach who resides in Hualien (花蓮), coaching kids and training Taiwanese coaches in every aspect of the game. After playing for Arsenal Football Club as well as Spanish club Murcia, Ali felt his strengths and passion made him destined to coach. Despite the English Football Association sponsoring his coaching pathway, where he worked with the likes of current England Manager Roy Hodgson, he recently turned down many other tempting offers both in England and in Europe in favor of dedicating himself to taking Taiwanese soccer to the international stage.
Why would an outsider to Taiwanese society sacrifice so much to pursue something not directly beneficial to himself? The answer is simple: Ali wants to prove that playing soccer has nothing to do with race. And instead of helping a country with an already developed soccer infrastructure, he wants to help those who are really lacking in support to "plant the first seed in the soil."
A British national of Indian descent, Ali has been a victim of racism. He has encountered unjust treatment throughout his career just because of his skin color. Unable to be fully appreciated in England, he decided to leave and bring his talents into full play somewhere else. Ali's first major project took place in India. Out of 20,000 trialists, 16 players were selected, trained and then went on to win the cup at the Arsenal International Soccer Festival in 2011. The success not only brought confidence to India, but it also proved his point and pushed his ambition even further.
As it stands, Taiwan ranks No. 170 in the FIFA world rankings. However, Ali thinks Taiwan should be in at least 80th place because he has already witnessed potentially world class talent here. His short-term goal is to take a team of the best young Taiwanese players as well as talented players from India, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong to next year's Dana Cup in Denmark, the largest international youth soccer tournament in the world, where soccer greats such as former Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel have played. Dana Cup marketing director Alison Forman looks forward to welcoming Ali's team in 2015 and says that this summer a record 1,067 teams have entered from around the world.
Ali is fully confident that his team will finish in the top 10 while aiming to win the trophy. His long-term goal in Taiwan is to start a nationally and internationally recognized program that can partner with many other industries such as health and fitness, education, business, etc.
England manager Roy Hodgson, left, shakes hands with Taiwan's future World Cup hope Judan Ali.
Courtesy of Andy Rotham