Could a Taiwanese youth team develop better by playing in another countries football league?

Taiwanese football development, always a ‘hot’ topic after the World Cup 

After each World Cup, there is always quite a bit of discussion of how best to develop football on the island of Taiwan. Interest in football piques while people who previously would otherwise have no interest in football become infatuated with the competition. 

And like every time the World Cup finishes the same questions begin to be asked, how can Taiwanese football be developed. One solution that could be considered would be to send a talented team to play in another countries league pyramid. 

Could a Taiwanese youth team play in another countries league? 

Yes, it can be done and currently is done with some other leagues around the world. England, Australia, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Singapore are some of the leagues that come to mind of examples where teams from a less competitive country play in another’s association football league. 

In England, there are a plethora of Welsh clubs playing in English association football leagues. Culminating in Swansea and Cardiff both getting to the highest level of English football and playing in the Premier League, Swansea also won the League Cup and therefore even played in Europe representing England. Meanwhile, Cardiff City is the only non-English side to win the FA Cup. 

There was some discussion at the time if Swansea should get an English European spot or not, but the right decision was decided upon and they were allowed to play in the Europa League. If the league has let them in, in the first place then they have to accept that they should get a spot in European competition. 

Swansea, Cardiff, WrexhamColwyn BayMerthyr Town, and Newport County all play in English association football leagues, and Wikipedia says the reason for this was because there wasn’t a Welsh league around when these clubs were formed. There is a Welsh league now, and they still prefer to stay in the English league for a lot of reasons, one – they’re already established in the leagues, two – the leagues are more competitive offering better competition, three – the sponsorship and prize money are better, and four – the prospects and rewards are better than playing in the Welsh league especially if you go higher up the pyramid. 

In Australia, New Zealand’s Wellington Pheonix play in the Australian A-League. In the past few years, there was a big commotion about them being in the A-League because the A-League wanted to expand by adding more Australian clubs and booting them out.

However, Pheonix managed to agree upon a new license and thankfully remained in the league because if they aren’t in the A-League the competition for New Zealand’s players will drop drastically if they can only compete in a New Zealand national league. 

In Switzerland, Liechtenstein’s biggest team FC Vaduz play in the Swiss Football League. This is because Liechtenstein is a tiny country that is not even a dot on the map and is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t even have an army. 

If your country isn’t even a dot on the map then you’re unlikely to be able to produce a high-quality football league, therefore FC Vaduz has taken the smart step of deciding to play in the Swiss football league. I believe they still participate in the Liechtenstein cup though which enables them to get a spot in European competition because as far as I am aware the Swiss league doesn’t allow them to take a Swiss teams spot in Europe. 

In Hong Kong, Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F’s reserves play in the Hong Kong Premier League. This is slightly different to the other examples because the Chinese Super League is a higher level competitively than the Hong Kong Premier League. 

R&F, however, have sent their reserve team, and sometimes some of their huge foreign imports end up in the reserves playing in Hong Kong instead of China. The idea is that the Hong Kong Premier League is a much better level of competition than the Chinese reserve leagues and that would be correct ideology. Competitive football is much better for development than reserve football.

The Singaporean Premier League currently has two foreign clubs playing in their football league. They are Japanese side Albirex Niigata Singapore FC and Brunei’s DPMM FC (which means His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Brunei Football Club). Both clubs reasons for joining the Singapore Premier League are different, Albirex has a development side playing in the league, while DPMM FC likely plays there because there is no other choice, with Brunei unlikely to have much in the way of competition as its tiny. 

As seen from examples in other leagues around the world it is possible to have a team from one country play another. This does not mean it is easy to achieve but it is another path that could be explored to help the development of talented youngsters in Taiwan. 

A Look at some of the difficulties that would be involved – costs

First of all, the costs of sending a team to play in a league outside your own country must be huge, you would need to pay them a salary, provide all support costs and provide management plus support staff. 

You would need to pay them otherwise it would be impossible for the players to play in another country without any money, that would mean the team would have to be full time which is extremely problematic for a country where there are only two teams capable of paying a proper monthly salary.

You’d need to provide accommodation and if that was in Hong Kong or Japan (the two closest leagues by proximity – we have discounted China for obvious reasons) then this would see the costs increase massively as both of these countries have high accommodation costs. 

You’d need to hire a management team and allow the manager to have a host of support staff, like coaches, physio etc. The cost involved in putting a Taiwanese team into another countries league would be the biggest stumbling block behind the idea of this development option. 

Logistics

The logistics in implementing a plan like this would be extremely complex and complicated. There are numerous ways of achieving the same goal in this plan, mainly do you train in your own country and travel for games only? Or would you stay in the country for the season and only return to your country when the season is over? 

As we mentioned a handful of other countries have started implementing this strategy for promising young players because it offers higher level competition and competitive matches. The benefits can be high, but also there is an equal chance of it being a total flop, and then you may as well have chucked the development money down the toilet. 

Persuading a league to let you join 

What would make another countries league let you enter a team of promising youngsters from a different country such as if Taiwan entered a Japanese league on their association football pyramid? There is only one carrot available that could be dangled in front of the stronger league, and that carrot is called wads, upon wads of cash.

We saw it in Germany with the Chinese national youth team, they paid them bucket loads of RMB but then pulled out when the Chinese spat their dummy out because Germany wouldn’t enforce Chinese rules and ban Tibetan flags. Taiwan surely wouldn’t have the issue of being offended by Tibetan flags or even Chinese flags for that matter but they would have problems growing their money carrots due to not having the same kind of resources to pump into football as the Chinese do. 

The Taiwanese league would suffer because of it in the short term

The Taiwanese Premier league would suffer if the best Taiwanese youngsters were sent to play in a team that participates in another countries football leagues. The flipside to this would be that there isn’t really much interest in the league anyway, and there are no signs that it is growing either regardless of the efforts being put into it by the CTFA.

If putting a Taiwanese side in another league then the development could be two-pronged, you send a side to play in another league by bribing them to let you in, while at the same time still ploughing on with your development plans at home. 

If you manage to develop the home league enough then those players who have experience of playing abroad in say Japan would have higher level experience and could potentially raise the level of the league if they decided to return. 

It would put Taiwanese players in the shop window and give them a pathway to develop a football career

Let’s be honest, it’s currently difficult to get scouted as a footballer if you’re playing league football in Taiwan. Not only is there low interest, but there is also sometimes a lack of competitiveness in the Taiwanese Premier League although that has improved this season as the scores have become closer in a lot of the matches. 

If you are a scout though, you have to compare the level of the Taiwanese Premier league to the level of the league you’re signing the players for. It is difficult to do this if you’re comparing Taiwanese sides to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Hong Kong sides. Taiwanese teams are working hard to improve, and the CTFA is supporting them at last but there is a long journey ahead for the clubs here to get to where they want to be. A sign of Taiwanese teams looking to improve is that some of them have started youth teams with the view and/or hope they can bring youngsters all the way through from youth level to play in the Taiwanese Premier League and one day maybe the national team. 

What leagues would/should a Taiwanese side attempt to join if they ever decided to go down this path? 

The first league system a promising young Taiwanese side should look to join if they ever went down this route to help their development should be the Japanese one. The Japanese league system is by far currently the best in East Asia.

Failing that, I would suggest them to join the Hong Kong Premier League because it is only a 45 minutes flight journey, the league is pretty competitive and has a good organizational history. The level isn’t as high as Japan but is still higher than Taiwan’s. The teams get paying fans coming to the stadiums to watch, they play proper home and away games. Therefore it would still be a good learning curve for a Taiwanese side. 

China’s league has a lot of money and is currently progressing very well, but due to politics and history; a Taiwanese side joining the Chinese league would be nothing short of a disaster. 

Would a Taiwanese side playing in another countries league ever likely be a possibility?

It is extremely unlikely the CTFA would ever take this route in regards to the development of Taiwanese footballers. Firstly there are so many problems and issues of putting this kind of plan into place.

Getting accepted into another countries league, logistical problems and the cost of running it would all be very difficult to overcome. Other countries who have taken this path either have loads of money to spend on it or the two countries involved are in very close proximity to each other which negates a lot of the problems that Taiwan would need to overcome to take this decision. 

The pros of this would be: players play at a higher level, they get used to a more competitive environment and the league, they could bring the experience back to Taiwan, there would be a higher chance of making a career in football. 

The cons would be: the Taiwanese Premier League would suffer in the short term, the amount of funding that would go towards one team instead of a larger proportion of young players wouldn’t seem like a good way of spending a development budget, and it would still not be a guarantee for success and could fail. 

It is just another way that football associations around the world are now taking to develop youth level teams, so it should be looked into as every development method has something positive that could be taken from it and applied to Taiwan’s development program. 

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