From Bollywood to Ewood: Judan Ali in challenging new role
Blackburn's new coach has had almost as much experience in the world of film as in the dugout
The challenge for any new coach taking over the wreckage of Blackburn Rovers is daunting but even more so for one who only three years ago was helping run a club called Accrington Stanley Bowles in the Fifth Division of London's Sunday Sportsman's League.
That man is Judan Ali, who was lined up as Rovers' potential manager by the club's Indian owners when Steve Kean was sacked in September and who will be up against it when, in what is a big moment for British Asian football, he arrives to take training today. Ali has plenty to prove, to judge by the fact that the sacked manager Henning Berg evidently struggled to convince Rovers' senior players that he had good enough credentials. At least Ali has Bollywood acting experience on his CV. That will be useful at a club whose story feels more like a comedy film script with each convulsion.
Details of Ali's football credentials are sketchy, though having been brought up by Indian-born parents in London's Brick Lane he did have a role in the Arsenal youth ranks in the 1980s. When that ended, letters requesting trials at clubs as far removed as Plymouth Argyle and Carlisle United then came to nothing. Ali is said to have given up on England and spent time at Barcelona's La Masia academy. There are reports of him gaining qualifications there and of him working at Murcia. Those could not be validated last night, when Ali could not be reached.
He certainly did play his part on the big screen. Ali had a role in the casting for the 2007 feature Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal – a rags-to-riches story set in west London's Asian football-playing community which was, in part, inspired by his own struggle for a breakthrough in the game. The plot has the fictional Southall United overcoming all obstacles to become top dogs in the Combined Counties League. There were positive reviews for it and moderate box office success.
This brought a celebrity role in a real football team at around the same time. Ali joined actors Ross Kemp and Omid Djalili as the celebrity members of the Chelsea representative team who played in Sky 1's Premier League All Stars televised charity football tournament, broadcast live on consecutive nights for one week in September 2007. There was a 5-2 win over Bolton before quarter-final elimination to Sunderland.
His role in the casting for the Bollywood movie also led him to an appreciation of the youth talent in India where his attempts to assemble an Under-15 side to compete in Arsenal's football festival this summer attracted 20,000 applicants, which he whittled down to just 16 young hopefuls. He has been deeply involved in anti-racism work at grass-roots level in London. His work in India has led him to voice hopes of managing a low-ranked national team, possibly India, through World Cup qualifiers. "I have already proved that it can be done at youth level and I am determined to do the same at international senior level, should the opportunity arise," Ali said recently.
But his work in the British game itself does not seem to have reached much beyond his energetic involvement at Accrington Stanley Bowles, the self-styled "QPR internet supporters' club", whose existence pays homage to one of the club's all-time heroes. Ali would regularly communicate the club's results to the local London newspaper, which reported in 2009 an example of his managerial mind games. The opposition had cried off one week, so Ali, the assistant manager, organised a friendly without telling the players. The result was a performance just as intense as a league game, with a win for good measure. Ali will need a lot more where that came from at Blackburn.
SHORT STAYS FASTEST MANAGERIAL EXITS
Leroy Rosenior, Torquay United, May 2007; 1 day
Returned as manager after a four-year spell but the club was being taken over and he was reportedly replaced after just 10 minutes.
Bill Lambton, Scunthorpe, April 1959; 3 days
Took charge for a single game, a 3-0 loss to Huddersfield.
Jörg Berger, Arminia Bielefeld, May 2009; 5 days
Shown the door after one game having failed to save the German club from Bundesliga relegation.
Jack Crompton, Luton Town, 1962; 7 days
Ex-Manchester United goalkeeper was not given any longer than a week.
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