Judan Ali, Grays Athletic New Women’s Team Manager: “I Have Had the Chance to Coach and Mentor a Few Hong Kong Youth Players in the UK”

Judan Ali

Judan Ali has taken all his global experiences as a manager / coach and now has been given the opportunity to become the new Grays Athletic Women’s Team Manager.

This appointment is a new opportunity for one of England’s oldest clubs to evolve to the next level under his stewardship. Ali will start his appointment immediately and is ready to pass on his knowledge to the players under his care. The Women’s team currently play in the Essex County Women’s Football League while the men’s team play in the Isthmian League North Division.

Since Judan took over his new role with Grays Athletic, more teams have reached out for friendlies.

Ali has worked with two of the top premier league clubs in Hong Kong – Kitchee and Eastern SC. He had the task of setting up one of their academies which incorporates the ‘La Masia’ philosophy which he learnt under mentorship from the late Johan Cryuff

“Since my time coaching with two of the leading premier league clubs in Hong Kong, Kitchee SC and Eastern SC, I have had many parents and former students (aged 11 – 15) reach out to me with regards to when I will return to Hong Kong. They ask me when I can carry out one to one football sessions with them (former students) as most of them play for Hong Kong now and aspire to play abroad in Europe.

I have had the chance to coach and mentor a few Hong Kong Youth players in between running the Judan Ali Football Academy and my role as Technical Director for the Maldives FA. I am now currently the Technical Development Director of football for one of the oldest English professional football clubs, Grays Athletic FC. This May, I also recently took over the woman’s first team as manager. 

With regards to Hong Kong, recently one youth player, has taken a chunk out of my time as I am helping him develop. This has been Kitchee SC and Hong Kong national youth player, Karson Tsui, who is aged 15. Karson’s father truly supports his son’s development and has entrusted me in becoming Karson’s guardian during his time in the U.K while he studies.  

I shall be heading out to Hong Kong this summer as Karson returns to train with Kitchee and the HK national team. Incidentally, during Karson’s time with me, his name has been on the radar of Premier League Clubs; West Ham United FC, Tottenham Hotspurs FC and Aston Villa Football Club.”

As football emerges from the global pandemic, Ali is aware of the levels of emotional stress and depression that are currently rampant at the highest echelons of the game and amongst those trying to make it. The beautiful game was thrown upside down in the last few years and many careers have been thrown off course.

Fortunately, there is now a greater understanding of mental health issues in society in general and these issues are now being addressed in football. Ali gave voice to these concerns. 

“During the pandemic, this (Mental Health) was an area that became more exposed. Health organisations and key governments departments that had sports as a major driver in their constituencies, discovered that there were higher levels of suicide, self-harming and players becoming detached from their families. In some instances, young players were “Locking themselves away” from close relatives and partners. 

It can be a lonely life in professional football due to the global cult following that is football. The stakes are higher now as even a pass / assist leading to a goal at the top level can be valued.”

The pressures of the modern game and the huge uptake of social media means that many footballers still struggle with the rigours of staying in the game; the anxiety of gaining a club can also adversely affect players on the rise. 

“Social media also plays a major part in how footballers are perceived. For example, when a player has a bad game or misses a crucial penalty such as Saka (Arsenal) during the Euros in 2021; his social media was bombarded with racially charged messages. This surely has a negative impact and will take its toll on a less stronger person mentally and thus leading them to give up playing.”

Research has shown that amongst professional footballers around the world, symptoms of common mental disorders that some players suffer from, range from adverse alcohol use to constant anxiety/depression.

Injuries can severely hamper or cut short careers. Footballers who have sustained one or more severe time-loss injuries during their career are more susceptible to suffer nearly 4 times the levels of emotional issues than professional footballers who have not suffered from similar time-loss injuries. 

Some never recover from injuries and this severely hampers their career path and when some players, who have gone all in for football have no educational qualifications to fall back on. This ultimately means future struggles ahead. 

Ali discussed why there is still such a stigma about mental health issues in football.

“During the past 2 years, I have studied and have gained mental health related educational qualifications. During my studies, it became apparent that mental health issues are not taken seriously enough especially in football and news media play a huge part. Fans can now ridicule players easily for underperformance.

In some cultures and religions, there is no room for someone to suffer from a mental illness. Therefore in society, there are pockets of large communities that cannot reach out and seek help for afraid of being ridiculed. Some would argue still that suffering from something that isn’t a physically visual injury cannot be affecting someone’s performance on the field.  Some reports have exposed that people are too quick to say they are suffering from depression and therefore cannot go to work; when in fact they could (go to work) and they are just being lazy.” 

Millions of young players around the world are chasing their football dreams though the pandemic has caused a lot of promising careers to suffer. Ali gave some advice on how players, who were released from clubs from a young age, can adapt and move on with their lives, football related or not.

“During the pandemic, I have had players reach out to me on my social media especially my Twitter @Judan Ali. A few were crying out for help. One player said he wanted to kill himself as he worked all his childhood and sacrificed his studies but the pandemic created uncertainty and he was due to sign a contract. I told him that after the pandemic restrictions are lifted, things will go back to the way it was with his club as the club signed him once so they saw something in him. I also told the player that I would contact his club after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted and football resumes.

The player is now is back playing for the same club and he is happy.  This is an area that I do not feel society, as a whole, has addressed and certainly governments haven’t given any form of attention to this.  It is clear that making it in professional football is now like winning the lottery but you have to be in it to win it.” 

Ali said professional clubs should spend more time and money and show sincere care to those young players who do not make the grade with their clubs. 

The statistics are damning. Research has shown that less than 0.5% of the players aged under 9 that are signed by professional teams, go all the way to make an appearance for their first team. This means millions of players do not make the grade. For some it goes beyond football; it is a chance to change their life and their family’s destiny as making it at the top level would be a way out of difficult circumstances. While rejection can begin a vicious cycle of emotional issues and real life career struggles.

Again, clubs have definitely improved in the last two decades with how they handle young players’ dreams, aspirations and expectations though there is still time for improvement. Ali gave advice on how parents can set realistic expectations and not to place all their hopes and dreams on their children’s shoulders. 

“Therefore parents are now more than ever supporting their child’s participation and in some cases, parents relocate to be closer to a football club’s academy.  There have been tragedies where professional footballers have nowhere to go after being released by their academy. One example is Manchester City’s Jeremy Wisten who joined city at the age of 13. Where is the aftercare when a player is released? Where is the follow-up from the club that makes millions of pounds in player sales and yet cannot put together a plan for their former academy players? There are so many more questions that I have.

My advice to any parent is please do not live your dream of becoming a footballer and then failing through your child. For this pressure and burden is massive and invariably will fail. Young players need guidance in any sport and need to focus on their education and schooling. Sport is a bonus if they happen to excel and make a career out of it.”

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