The small island of Taiwan is easy to overlook. Located just 180 kilometres to the south-east of mainland China, it has limited global influence under the constant political and fiscal shadow of its big and brash neighbour across the water.
Whilst the Chinese government have set about their much-publicised bid to invest huge sums of money in developing a healthy and lucrative football infrastructure in the country, the reality in Taiwan could not be more divergent.
The majority of the local population care little for sporting achievement and as such any footballing talent and passion that resides in the country is often neglected and prevented from flourishing at all.
Consequently, the national team has perennially occupied the lower echelons of world football and last month lingered in a lowly 148th in FIFA’s World ranking system.
Currently in the midst of an Asian Cup qualification campaign, the side travelled to play Bahrain last week. A humbling 5-0 defeat meant that they occupy third position at the half way stage in a group also containing Turkmenistan and Singapore.
In a country lacking extensive football knowledge, officials have often looked to bring in expertise from further afield. The experienced Toshiaki Imai was appointed as head coach in May 2016, having returned to a position that he previously held between 2005 and 2007.
Despite creating a positive atmosphere in the squad, results remained inconsistent and largely underwhelming and with the veteran Japanese manager suffering a debilitating recent illness, the football association (CTFA) decided to take decisive action by appointing a replacement.
After interviewing a host of candidates they opted for the surprise selection of British coach Gary White.
The 44-year-old arrives in Taiwan with a burgeoning reputation in world football and could be considered as a real coup for the CTFA, given his record for upsetting the odds whilst managing footballing minnows.
White sensationally coached the tiny American Micronesian island territory of Guam in an impressive World Cup 2018 qualification campaign, beating the relative giants of India and Turkmenistan along the way.
He then followed up that success by rescuing Shanghai Shenxin from back-to-back relegation to China’s third tier last year, steering the struggling club from a poor start to an eventual mid table finish in League One with limited financial resources.
That success even prompted the English Football Association to add him to their list of candidates for the vacant Under-21 team manager position earlier this year, a list populated by footballing luminaries such as former-Everton and Manchester United defender Phil Neville, Stuart Pearce and Tim Sherwood.
The incumbent Aidy Boothroyd was eventually given the nod to continue in the post but White’s candidacy shows how highly he is thought of by officials in his home country.
Possessing a UEFA Pro License and the English FA’s exclusive elite coaching award, the former-British Virgin Islands and Bahamas head coach is certainly well qualified to improve Taiwan’s fortunes.
However, he will need every bit of his 18 year experience in management to raise the prospects of a country in desperate need of inspiration and know-how.
White remains optimistic over his chances of succeeding despite the enormous challenge that lies ahead.
“If you look at the squad we have available, I honestly believe we are the strongest team in the group and I’m genuinely excited to take over a team of such potential,” he recently told Fox Sports Asia.
“What I want to say to Singapore and other nations in the group is that this qualification is about to get interesting and my team is about to show the rest of Asia just what we are capable of.”
Upon the resumption of the Asian Cup qualification campaign on October 10, his new team welcome Bahrain to Taipei providing him with precious little time to make the impact required to bridge the huge chasm that was so evident in their humbling defeat against the same opposition last week.
“I’ll be taking over halfway through [qualifying], but it’s still a strong possibility,” White told reporters when asked about Taiwan’s chances of qualifying from their group.
“I’ve got experience in international football, especially in Asia, and I know how to get results.”
Although the CTFA will hope that the appointment of a new head coach will add fresh impetus to their qualification bid, White’s attacking mentality could be the most important catalyst for success.
The team has often struggled to create opportunities in open play, frequently relying on set pieces to compete with their more adventurous and esteemed rivals. A switch to a more attack-orientated philosophy may improve results but perhaps most importantly it will entertain a fan base that is vital in order for interest in the game to grow.
The top tier of domestic football on the island remains semi-professional but has recently enjoyed a rebranding, aiming to become more attractive for potential investors. However, the game remains disappointingly under-sourced with an inconvenient match schedule preventing fans from attending live fixtures and tuning in to online broadcasts.
White will hope to change that, as he attempts to persuade the Taiwanese people to fall in love with the game and back their national team.
One would think that his success in improving the profile of football in Taiwan will be inextricably linked with his ability to turn around performances and results on the pitch.
Whether he can accomplish mission impossible remains to be seen but should he succeed his reputation as a ‘miracle worker’ will be enhanced no end. For little Taiwan, football on the island could be about to receive the shot in the arm it deserves.