Soccer team left in limbo after relegation

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Feb 06, 2019 - Page 7

Fresh winds of change and promises of reform are sweeping through the nation’s soccer community with a new regime taking over at governing body the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA) last year, but the result of this season’s Taiwan Football Premier League (TFPL) relegation battle has left a team in limbo with no league to play in and has also exposed other problems that urgently need fixing in the coming months.

As usual, this season was a two-horse race for the title in the TFPL between Taipei Tatung and Kaohsiung Taipower, the two teams with the strongest corporate backing and financial clout.

The former were crowned champions with 54 points, while the latter were runners-up with 44 points.

Finishing bottom of the table were National Sports Training Center (NSTC), the army-affiliated team composed of young trainees playing in lieu of doing their compulsory military service, and expat side Royal Blues Taipei, headed up by Polish general manager Robert Iwanicki.

Promotion and relegation matches were held in December last year, with the Blues fighting to stay up against Taichung Futuro, Min Chuan University and Esporte Clube Desafio.

While the Blues started well by winning their first playoff match 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Futuro, they faltered in the next match, losing 2-3 to Desafio.

Then in the decisive match the Blues fell to 0-1 defeat to Min Chuan.

Futuro and Min Chuan topped the group with six points from their three matches.

“Taichung Futuro and Min Chuan University have gained promotion. They will play in the TFPL for the 2019 season ... while Royal Blues Taipei have been relegated,” a CTFA news release on Dec. 20 said.

However, that led to a bizarre situation with the Blues having no league in which to play, since the CTFA has no national lower-tier leagues.

“After three years in the Taiwan Premier League, the Blues have been relegated to ... nothing, as there is still no second division in Taiwan,” the club said on its Web site on Jan. 2.

“NSTC have dropped out of the TFPL, due to changes in military conscription, which resulted in a lack of youth players for a full roster and they have no plans to enter a team in the future,” the CTFA told the Taipei Times last month.

“Royal Blues Taipei have been relegated, due to last month’s results. It is true that, at this time, we do not have a second division for the club to play in. However, the CTFA have plans to ... get a second division up and running by 2020 at the earliest,” the statement said.

For Iwanicki and his players, it was quite a setback, with the side left in limbo, a situation that has exposed other issues that result from years of questionable management by the CTFA.

Most soccer pundits agree that most of the problems are the result of neglect by the previous CTFA management team and political interference, but they generally agree that current CTFA president Chiou I-jen and secretary-general Fang Chien-ren are genuinely pushing ahead with reforms.

They are enacting new policies to improve the national squad and grassroots development of the game, along with more transparency and openness in the decisionmaking process.

Iwanicki said his team were not sure who they would play this season, but that they would not give up and would fight to regain their place in the top flight.

“We will plan ahead for this year, and will keep training and organizing friendly matches. We will definitely come back to the top division stronger and better organized,” he said.

Through his many years of working with the CTFA, Iwanicki has identified a number of organizational issues, and he has some recommendations to expedite the much-needed reform and to help advance the nation’s international progress.

Having played in the youth teams of Bundesliga club Schalke 04 before going on to play at amateur clubs in Germany, Iwanicki, who has UEFA B certification and is currently in Europe completing his UEFA A license, hopes to pass on some advice to the CTFA and set a new direction for Taiwanese soccer.

Among the priorities that need addressing is the lack of qualified personnel to carry out the reforms at the CTFA, along with the urgent need for experienced and professional managers to coordinate the leagues, Iwanicki said.

The CTFA must put more effort and resources into bettering organizing the TFPL and upgrade its online presence, he said.

“This is probably the worst-run league in the world,” he said.

He recommended that experts be hired to design and manage a TFPL Web site that is run independently from the CTFA, as the current Web site is difficult to navigate and has been criticized by players, fans and the media.

That would be a first step in showing the international soccer community a fresh face and the CTFA’s commitment to reforming the game in Taiwan, he said.