The British coach may not have the big name status of Solskjaer, Larsson or Schuster but at 20-1 the Londoner of Indian heritage has still been linked with the role at Blackburn Rovers. But who is he?
The prolonged tenure of Steve Kean has finally come to an end and in the short time since the Scot finally jumped before being pushed there has been an abundance of former players, aspiring big-names and out-of-work coaches linked with the job.
However perhaps, on the broad face of it, the most intriguing and surprising name being mentioned has to be that of Judan Ali.
Before the stokers of the flame that is ‘internet tittle-tattle’ and message board gossiping grab their pitchforks the link has come from more credible sources. Indeed a recent article that highlighted Henrik Larsson with the opening named just one other potential applicant, Judan Ali.
Deliberating on the who, what-if and maybe’s of the Blackburn managerial job may in fact be a redundant topic but discovering the incredible story of Judan Ali is not, and to highlight his real potential as a football manager over the echoes of ‘PR stunt’ that could reverberate upon a hypothetical Ewood Park appointment.
I myself come from an area with a high British Asian diaspora, and the topic of British Asians in football has always been a fascinating one to me on a personal level. Since travelling to a football tournament in Milton Keynes as a teenager, conquering youth teams from Ipswich Town and Cambridge United before succumbing to a side who had named themselves ‘Luton Asian’s’ my pre-adolescent belief that British Asian’s couldn’t play football were quashed. Since then fixtures with teams from areas such as Slough, Maidenhead and High Wycombe have also made me believe there is a high degree of ignorance toward the issue.
Ali was a victim of this ignorance in the 80’s, after a spell as a trainee at Arsenal he continued to chase any young aspiring footballer’s dream, to play professional football. No matter how many trials he went to or letters he sent, from Plymouth Argyle to Carlisle United, he was commonly rejected. This may seem like an all too familiar tale, yet after typewriting the same letters again but changing his name to John, Tom or Jordan … the acceptances rose.
His story inspired a Bollywood movie, and thus began the start of his most incredible achievement. When asked to become involved in the casting for the film, Dhan Dha Na Dhan Goal, Ali was amazed at the depth and wealth of raw talent in India itself. As with the dusty playing fields of Africa, the concrete football jungles of Europe and the favela’s of Brazil the talent in India had a canvas, the slums.
While India as an economy is one of the rising giants this increased proximity to finance does not reach the slum level, and the result is a pool of untapped raw talent with highly developed technical skills that can only be achieved by constant training, as a means of escape from the hardships of everyday toil.
After whittling down 20,000 applicants to just 16 young hopefuls, who were to represent India at the Arsenal International Tournament in 2011 nobody could have predicted the end result, apart from Ali himself.
He had seen the talent, a keen admirer of Barcelona and frequent visitor to La Masia during his spell in Spain, he saw the technical abilities his troupe had to offer. In hindsight if a TV crew had been present the documentary would have been truly inspiring, as in almost Mighty Duck’s fashion, they went all the way to the final, defeating USA comfortably.
Ali is a born-motivator and has always been able to gain the trust of players and anybody around him and while obviously his Indian heritage has played some part in the consideration from Venky’s group he must not be underestimated.
While he has admitted a club-level job could be attractive if it was the right role, he would not put his burgeoning reputation on the line if he did not believe it was the right thing to do. His target of getting a team from outside the top-70 in FIFA’s World Rankings, perhaps India themselves, to the World Cup in Qatar 2022 is a huge personal goal and no amount of money would detract him from his principles.
While the Blackburn role may have come at the wrong time amidst a call for a big name after the unsuccessful Steve Kean tenure he is still a name to keep your finger on in the near future.
He has gained acquaintances such as Roy Hodgson, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Paul Fairclough and Clarke Carlisle and his belief that India’s 1.2 billion population must have a copious amount of unearthed rough diamonds ready to achieve great things in Europe.
His inspiration however, and link with names such as Clarke Carlisle, an avid anti-racism campaigner should be palpable. Times have changed and while a stigma is still attached to Football it must be recognised that times have changed and now aspiring footballers from a similar background can achieve that final frontier of the English game, for a British Asian to play in the Premier League.
In Judan Ali’s case, it may only be a matter of time before we have our first British Asian Premier League manager.
What do you make of the career so far of Judan Ali and his burgeoning potential?
Check out The FA’s Vauxhall ‘Football Mash Up’ sessions online here with which Judan Ali is heavily involved and aims to give teenagers who have fallen out of club football the opportunity for a kick-about in Dagenham, East London and don’t forget to follow @judanali on Twitter.