21 January 2024

Top flight football in Guatemala

Between all the AFCON and AFC Asian Cup matches online right now, I was able to catch some live football while in Guatemala and viewed the first match of the Liga Guate Clausura at the home stadium of Antigua GFC, the local club of the charming former colonial capital about one hour outside of Guatemala City. Some musings from the game:
  • Antigua GFC's mascot is an avocado! --->>
  • Quite a few tourists, many who are students at the local Spanish language schools, attended the game. Most of the gringos were gone by halftime
  • There was Taco Bell food available inside the stadium. They are one of the team's sponsors. It can thus be definitively said that Antigua GFC has better food at their games than Aston Villa or Arsenal (two Premier League teams whose matches I attended during the Christmas/New Years holidays)
  • Turnout was a few hundred people (at most maybe 1,000) and it was a fairly quiet and polite crowd
  • Standard of play was probably a little below USL Championship
  • There was enough merch on sale to satisfy hardcore supporters and plenty of fans were wearing team swag 

    Photos from the home match of Antigua GFC

16 January 2024

Nepal Super League - just keep it going!

Nepal Super League
Photo courtesy of Nepal Super League Facebook page

Due to travel and time zones, I did not get to catch as much of the second edition of the Nepal Super League (NSL) as I might have hoped. Nonetheless, I received regular updates via social media and from folks on the ground. Here are a few brief takeaways from the recently completed competition:

  • NSL is clearly a cut above any other football tournament in Nepal in terms of standard of play and marketing (both league and franchises). It provides a great benchmark for other soccer competitions in the country and contributes greatly to the football ecosystem

  • The NSL needs 3 or 4 more consecutive years of play to clearly embed itself in the football landscape. Continuity is key. Any potential hiatus and it risks becoming another political pawn in Nepali football politics - as it was in the last ANFA elections

  • NSL club franchises must be sustainable. If I am the NSL management, I take learnings from the likes of MLS (USA), ISL (India) and A-League (Australia) - all franchise leagues, and copy their best practices. Minimize costs, scale resources, create exclusivity and provide opportunities to generate revenues

  • You can't expect football fans in Kathmandu alone to sustain the NSL. Especially in an area that has so many other entertainment options. Games need to be played outside the Valley and franchises need to be able to tap into additional revenues a local fanbase and a dedicated venue can generate

NSL is on the right track and has been a great boon for domestic football. It has given football fans and observers a peek into the potential of Nepali football.  The main thing now is to just keep it going.

03 December 2023

Bhim Thapa

I had the good fortune to work and interact with Bhim Thapa on several occasions, including on a grassroots football coaching program we organized together in Morang district. At the time, grassroots football and coach education was not really appreciated by much of the Nepali football fraternity. I recall people questioning why we would waste our time training junior coaches and very young kids in the villages. Bhim Thapa knew exactly why! 

Farewell dear coach.

Coaching program in Biratnagar
Coaching clinic Bhim Thapa and I coordinated in Biratnagar

Bhim Thapa teaching a group of aspiring coaches
from different villages across Morang district

02 July 2023

July 4th - Independence Day (USA)

I’ve had the privilege to live in 10+ countries and visit another 40 or so. There are so many beautiful and inspiring places globally but the opportunities, innovation, diversity, charitable ethos and pioneering spirit found in the U.S. are unmatched. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty amazing. That is why July 4th - Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays, as it provides an ideal moment to reflect on the greatness of this country and the unique and visionary foundations it was built on.

26 June 2023

A Division results need to be decided on the pitch instead of off of it

A Division league table from Hamro Khelkud
Nepal's top flight football league experienced yet another chaotic finale with accusations of bias, unfairness, tanking and match-fixing all across the league table.

This is par for the course in Nepali football and primarily due to the competition organizers lacking common sense when developing the league format and competition rules. 

Below are just a few givens when it comes to the A Division every time it is played:

  • Due to political mischief many clubs struggle to register foreign players for the start of the season
  • Key players depart in the middle of the season for opportunities abroad
  • Top clubs will use incremental prize money to buy wins and guarantee their places at the top of the table
  • Clubs in and near the relegation zone fix matches to avoid going down

The phrase "the table does not lie" thus does not hold true in Nepal.  Due to some of the above circumstance the final standing is usually not at all indicative of how strong club is but more representative of their political and financial might in getting players registered on time and fixing matches. For this reason a double-round league holds little value in Nepal.

Football officials should instead create a format that allows clubs to fight it out in meaningful end of season matches. Basically playoffs (though there are other little hacks, such as leveling the prize money, than can also help).

After the league stage, take the top 4,6 or 8 teams and let them compete in a single elimination playoff where all teams are incentivized to give it their all. Similarly, take the bottom four teams and have them play a one-off game where the loser gets relegated. With such formats in place, clubs will much less likely fix games or block other teams from registering their players on time (yes! that happens in Nepal) as they will know that eventually the playoff matches will be decisive and engaging in nefarious shenanigans is a waste of their time and money. Let the A Division results be decided on the pitch instead of off of it!