Taiwan’s media – “If Iceland are a team of amateurs, how can Taiwan not succeed?”

The perpetuated myth that Iceland is a team of amateurs

So the World Cup has just ended, with some people being sick of hearing about the success of Iceland, and some people still enjoying hearing about Iceland. Taiwan, however, had a completely different take on the whole Iceland saga.

The Chinese written media has been persistently trying to smash home the myth that Iceland qualified for the World Cup with a squad full of amateurs and semi-professionals. My opinion is that this false information is linked very closely to the power struggle that has been continuing between the CTFA (Chinese Taipei Football Association) and the government. 

There were continuing news reports of how Iceland has done so well with a team of amateurs, so how come Taiwan can’t manage to do this well too?  A friend even asked me about Iceland’s team and if they were really amateur players or not.

Iceland is so small, how could they not be amateurs? 

One of the key points that were said often is that Iceland is so small, how can they manage to sustain professional players and leagues. My guess is that if it is not connected to the ongoing saga between the CTFA and government then it is the epitome of lazy journalism.  

If they did a google search looking into football in Iceland, then they would have found that the Icelandic league is indeed a semi-pro/amateur league, but if they google searched the Iceland World Cup squad they would have realized that the majority of their players, in fact, play outside of the Icelandic league and play in most of the professional leagues throughout Europe. 

Football is a new and growing sport to many Taiwanese people

Football is still a very new sport to many Taiwanese people, therefore it is easier to spread this kind of rumour based on the knowledge that you know most of your audience won’t check the information themselves as they are casual fans who are only watching because of the World Cup.

Using Iceland as a stick to knock Taiwanese football is what I consider a low blow, Iceland and Taiwan cannot be compared at all in many aspects of sports in general never mind in football. Compare, however, they did, as they need those easy sound bites and now those people who had a passing interest in the sport over the World Cup have been left wondering why can’t we do it if Iceland did with their amateurs? 

Taiwan cannot be compared to Iceland

When it comes to football Taiwan can’t be compared to Iceland. Iceland has been competing in Europe for years, and even when they were ranked low in the FIFA rankings they were still pumping out quality players like Eiður Guðjohnsen and Hermann Hreiðarsson.

There is a very strong sporting culture in European countries and just because Scandinavian countries don’t qualify often for the World Cup doesn’t mean they aren’t good at football. For most Scandinavian countries football is not the major sport in their country so those guys and girls who might have been interested in football in the past may have picked another sport to take part in because the national team was currently more successful than the football team at that time, especially in the case of Iceland. Which makes it difficult to attract people to the sport when the country isn’t as successful in football as they are in other sports.

People have banged on, and on, and on about the population size of Iceland in Taiwan a lot during the World Cup, the basic idea being that Taiwan has loads more people than Iceland so we should be better. This is laziness personified because population size can be a plus and a negative.

For example, in Iceland, there are more qualified coaches than many other nations around the world have, but their small population size helps them achieve this nice little stat. On the other hand, however, their low population hinders them when it comes to what players they can choose from to represent the country. 

Taiwan, unlike Iceland, doesn’t have any real sporting culture, with baseball and basketball being the main sports to play or watch. Even when considering the size of the population the number of people you see playing basketball or baseball is considerably low, and even then when you do see people play basketball in Taiwan you always see them just playing 3 vs 3. Very rarely do you see them playing a full court game?

In Taiwan sport isn’t really encouraged in schools or by parents and honestly, they are right to not focus on sports and that sounds bad to say. Sport in Taiwan does not provide a great pathway for a child’s future, but at least baseball and basketball have provided a good career to some Taiwanese athletes who have made their way to America. Football cannot provide a similar pathway for Taiwanese players. 

The only destination Taiwanese players have transferred from Taiwan to is China, at the time of writing, all Taiwanese players currently playing in China play in Chinese League One or lower. Last time I checked there were six Taiwanese players in China, with them all performing well. Taiwan’s captain Chen Po-Liang doing best of the lot, as he was made Hangzhou Greentown’s captain this year. 

For Taiwanese parents to encourage their kids to pursue a career in football, the career pathway has to improve. Otherwise, parents are currently making the correct decision based on what is best for their children. 

Low paid and a lack of structure

There’s no way of getting around it, Taiwanese footballers are low paid. If the pay is low then not many people want to become footballers. Not only is the pay low, but once a Taiwanese players career is over then they have nothing to fall back on. Most end up being P.E teachers or coaches. 

Even if the pay was ok, and the players could live a good life when their career was over, the current structure in place covering Taiwanese football isn’t great. It has improved a lot but it still has a long way to go.

The Taiwanese Premier League has 8 teams, and the bottom two teams have to go into a play-off against the teams who would like to enter the league for the next season. The teams who lose this play-off are out of the league completely. As in there is nowhere they can now play in the official Taiwan football association structured league. They have to wait until the season ends, and then re-enter the qualifiers and hope they succeed in getting back into the league. 

However, if the relegated team gets back into the league then the cycle repeats itself because another team is booted out for the season. They have to sit around all season twiddling their thumbs until the next season begins and fight to boot someone else out. This is no way to develop football or develop teams. A team will obviously have no intention of helping young players develop if they face the risk of being booted out of the league for finishing bottom two. 

Last time they played the playoffs to enter the Premier League, there were two new teams who wanted in, and two teams who were in the bottom two places. I cannot figure out why you wouldn’t just let those bottom two back into the league, with the new teams and expand to ten teams in the league.

The argument is that the quality would drop, that may be the case but having the teams involved has to be better than they sat around waiting to try and get back into the league. Eventually, if more, and more teams wanted in you could expand to two leagues then offer promotion and relegation. Therefore you wouldn’t need to boot teams out of the league if they finished bottom (there is no need to kick the teams out of the bottom league, just keep expanding). 

There are no fans because there is nothing to support

This opinion might be unpopular, but there really is nothing to support for most Taiwanese people. If Fujen University is playing Taipower (Taiwan’s national power company) then what is there to support for most of the population in regard to these two teams? Nothing, that’s what. Some people who go to Fujen University may go to shout for them, friends and family and that are about it.

The league will struggle to get fans until geographical areas of Taiwan are properly represented as the cities team. You could even zoom in further, for example, Fujen University is located in Xinzhuang so they could become Xinzhuang football club, but to begin with, zooming that far wouldn’t be a good idea. That would be the next step if the league would ever be able to expand. The first step would be to have a team from the big cities competing against each other.

Kaohsiung vs Taipei, Tainan vs Taichung, Taoyuan vs Yilan and Hualien FC, if this didn’t generate interest in the league I don’t know what would. 

Even in Iceland, where the clubs are part-time teams they aren’t named after companies and universities. The teams in Iceland represent some geographical area, the only way you’re getting people to come, be interested and support the league is by giving them a reason to support it. Right now the Taiwanese Premier League doesn’t achieve this.

Advertising the football has to improve

A lot of Taiwanese people don’t know the country has a football team, the amount of people I’ve asked about football here who have replied that Taiwan doesn’t have a team has been staggering and also points to how poorly it is promoted.

As far as I can tell most national team games are only posted on social media sites of the football association. As for league games, it is either posted on team’s individual social media or the CTFA’s social media. Other than that I haven’t seen the league promoted anywhere else. 

It all boils down to money though unfortunately, and I have no clue how much the CTFA has to spend on running the league obviously, I doubt many people do but they need to find more creative ways to promote the games. 

Success breeds interest 

Recently there has been a lot of talk in the arguments between the CTFA and the government about the idea of pushing to break into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings. Success, however, breeds interest in the game.

If Taiwan could qualify for a major regional tournament that would be considered a major success for football in Taiwan, they just fell short when they lost to Turkmenistan but if Taiwan ever manages to get over the hurdle of struggling to qualify for a tournament then the CTFA needs to have the ability to capitalise on the popularity of the team at the time.

If Taiwan ever gets any relevant success and if the CTFA fail to capitalise then it will be a missed opportunity because once the tournament is finished then everything would just return to how it was.

Taiwan’s football schools are from the private sector, Iceland’s youth setup has government backing

Football coaches and football schools in Taiwan all come in different varieties. From the total shambolic where coaches don’t know how to play football to the schools with exceptional coaches who have coaching badges and certificates from international football associations.

As football is a new sport here, a lot of Taiwanese parents aren’t able to tell the difference themselves between the two and are happy enough to just let their kid take part in some classes or have fun. If the kids go to classes where the coach cannot control, or pass well himself then they have no chance of becoming decent at football. 

Even then, a problem experienced at the good football schools is that the kids will only play football at the school's classes. Outside of the classes a lot of the kids won’t play any football at all and then some of the parents expect them to still become exceptional players because they are paying for them to attend the classes.

This isn’t how it works as most people know, to become good or great at something you have to work at it. To become a great football player you have to play a lot, and play often; not just play once a week at your class. Taiwan lacks a culture of kids playing sports together like other parts of the world.

Contrast this to Iceland, where most youth teams are running and organised by the semi-professional clubs who play in the Icelandic league, and they provide fully licensed coaches who are partly funded by the government to train their youngsters and then there is no comparison between the two.

There are a lot of people trying to improve football in Taiwan, and there is a long road to travel before Taiwan will ever stand a chance of qualifying for the World Cup. Whoever has set the ball rolling by employing Gary White and his staff have set Taiwan on the best path they’ve been on for a long time.

What Taiwanese football doesn’t need right now is lazy articles by the news outlets comparing Taiwan and Iceland, because there really is no comparison to make. 

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