There's nothing more unpleasant than having your hopes built up only to have them crushed by malice or incompetence. Thirty teams have been knocked out of the running for the 2006 FIFA World Cup trophy, and each has felt these emotions at some juncture. Sometimes the villain is a cheating opposition player, an inattentive referee, or even one's own players. But it is even more galling if the villain is team management (such as for the hapless Togo side), whose job it is to predict and avoid pitfalls.
In his latest weekly e-newsletter, President Chen Shui-bian (
This kind of hyperbole would be acceptable if it was backed up by serious reform and an insight into the problems that keep Taiwan from rising to a more respectable ranking than 156th in the world.
Chen's grand dream is merely that. Sending 20 -- yes, 20 -- children under the age of 10 to Brazil for specialist training with a less-than-generous stipend is apparently all it takes to get Taiwan into the top 32 teams in the world, or, at least, the top five in Asia.
Chen's proposal seems to have been made in a vacuum (why Brazil? Why not France or Italy?). He made no mention of the troubles facing local soccer administrators and why so much money earmarked for sports ends up in places either unknown or unnecessary. He seems oblivious for the need to grow a soccer culture and corporatizing the result.
If Chen had taken any notice of this year's World Cup, he would also have appreciated the importance of coaching and team management, and he would have deduced that what Taiwan needs is a team of administrators that knows what it is doing and has a vision for the nation's players.
What this amounts to is not just hiring a Japanese to coach the slovenly national side (the men, that is; the women's side performs rather better in competition). It requires bringing in -- at some expense -- a team of professionals from outside Taiwan who can lay the foundations for decades to come, including training local administrators, selectors, promoters and everyone else.
It also amounts to Taiwan exploiting its unusual wealth in the region and launching an invitational competition that brings together Asian teams of about the same standard so that there is some level of competitive spectacle (call it the Taiwan Cup or the Formosa Cup, perhaps, but certainly not the Republic of China Cup). This would boost the confidence of Taiwanese players and fans, and push up the level of soccer among the minnows of Asia.
But we got none of this. Instead, Chen's policy is one of superficial flag-waving and throwing money at substance-free development programs. The nation deserves better than late night free-associating written up by Chen's staffers for Internet consumption.
The 2006 World Cup has been notable for the de-emphasis on brilliant individual play and the importance of well-drilled team soccer. Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, Australia and Ghana all performed above expectation because of their team game -- in defense or attack.
Chen's fantasies have coincided with the indictment of former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan (
Whether it be making up policy on the run for a sport about which he knows nothing, or employing aides about whose unsuitability for the job he knew nothing, Chen is demonstrating that his lame duck presidency is in part a creature of his own making. As president, you need a well-drilled team, or you'll be knocked out.
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