Taiwan aims for soccer miracle with White

Will Scott
The Shanghai-based Briton Gary White has built a reputation as an escapologist in his 20-year coaching career. He's recently appointed as manager of Chinese Taipei soccer team.
Will Scott
Taiwan aims for soccer miracle with White
Ti Gong

Gary White was called upon to rescue the sinking ship of Shanghai Shenxin midway through a wretched China League One campaign.

Gary White’s appointment as manager of Chinese Taipei soccer team is another remarkable chapter in the storybook life of the British soccer coach.

The 43-year-old signed a one-year rolling contract with Chinese Taipei and added another exotic location to his CV that reads more like a list of backdrops for an action-adventure movie than a setting for a football club. But, given his ability for the “mission impossible,” had the Southampton-born man been on the Titanic when it set sail from his hometown’s famous Hampshire maritime port in 1912, there is no doubt he would have kept it up.

The Shanghai-based White has built a reputation as an escapologist in his nearly 20-year coaching career. And last year was the latest in a long line of Harry Houdini acts when he was called upon to rescue the sinking ship of Shanghai Shenxin midway through a wretched China League One campaign.

Shanghai Shenxin was caught in a tempest and sinking fast when White arrived. Yet, despite having no money to invest in the squad, he navigated the side into the calmer waters of midtable as the season concluded, finishing above Clarence Seedorf’s big-spending Shenzhen FC in the process.

Built a reputation

White performed a similar miracle as national team coach of the Bahamas. He lifted them to an all-time FIFA-ranking record of 145, a jump of 47 places, before engineering arguably his greatest success of all as manager of Guam.

The tiny nation island has a population of around 165,000 and was ranked 174 in the world, yet Guam toppled India, 2-1, which has a population of 1.25 billion, in Asia’s qualifying Group D game in 2015.

Expect more of the same as White prepares his Chinese Taipei team for a friendly game in Mongolia next Wednesday, before the real action begins six days later against Bahrain in the AFC Asian Cup’s third qualifying round.

“The Chinese Taipei Football Association is undertaking a revolution and I’m ready to help them fulfill that potential,” said White, who was represented by Shanghai-based agency First Pick Group. “The immediate target is to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

“I’m taking over a team with half of the qualification games already played and we’re in third spot, only the top two go through.

“The longer-term goal is to take the team to their highest-ever FIFA placing and into the top 100 teams. But in the meantime, I plan to make an immediate impact, helping players by giving them better opportunities at club level as well as developing Chinese games.

“My experience at Shanghai Shenxin and with my work with Nike China will definitely help me with the (Taiwan) players. Six of the squad play on Chinese mainland, so I’m already familiar with them.”

Taiwan aims for soccer miracle with White
Ti Gong

White has been based in Shanghai for two years now after cupid’s arrow found its mark at an engagement party in Tokyo. He now has a 2-year-old son with his Chinese fashion designer wife, Yu Rui. The Englishman believes the calming influence of his wife and family life in Shanghai have prepared him for everything Asia has thrown his way.

“Marrying a Chinese woman has helped me assimilate into Chinese culture,” White acknowledged. “She has advised me on how to handle situations that, without her, could have gone very wrong. Her influence has helped me build better relationships with my players. One time, at Shanghai Shenxin, a close relative of a player passed away. I gave him a white envelope with some money in it. It meant a lot to him, and from that moment our relationship changed for the better.

“My son loves football and who knows, when he grows up he could be starting for the Chinese national team.”

The new Chinese Taipei coach began his football career as an apprentice at Southampton Football Club. He shared a dressing room with the likes of Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and Tim Flowers — all future England internationals.

Unfortunately, the youngster was unable to graduate from the lower ranks of Saints’ celebrated academy of football and drifted into the non-league game. Unglamorous spells at Bognor Regis and Fremantle City in Australia convinced White that his career lay in coaching rather than playing.

Like many British coaches working outside of the UK, White harbors a dream of managing, or coaching, a club in the English Premier League, Football League or Scottish SPFL. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen unless the owners and chairmen of those clubs open their minds to talent rather than a former Premier League footballer’s stature, celebrity status or nepotism. There was no better example of this than at Birmingham City last season. The club sacked manager Gary Rowett, when it was in the Championship play-off position, and installed former Italian and Chelsea superstar Gianfranco Zola as boss. Zola was then dismissed as Birmingham City slid into the relegation zone with five games of the season left.

The Blues only survived demotion into the third tier of football on the last day of the season after Harry Redknapp was parachuted in to do a fire-fighting job.

Taiwan aims for soccer miracle with White
Ti Gong

British coaches overseas

After serving his time in the US Major League Soccer as an academy director, the then 24-year-old landed his first managerial role for the British Virgin Islands national team. In his one-year spell, he hoisted the team from 187 in the FIFA world ranking to 161. Andre Villas-Boas, current manager of Shanghai SIPG and former Chelsea and Tottenham boss, succeeded White. The irony is not lost on the British coach, who was on a three-man shortlist earlier this year to be the England Under-21 manager.

He said: “Villas-Boas did not enjoy the same sort of success I did with the British Virgin Islands, but the difference for him was that he was then mentored by Jose Mourinho at Porto and Chelsea, and was then given managerial jobs of his own. He’s a talented coach who is doing a good job. But if he had been English and not Portuguese, would he have had the same opportunity?

“There have been some great foreign coaches in English football, but there have also been some very average ones and you wonder how they got those jobs,” White said.

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