19 September 2016

A salute to the Singapore Grand Prix

I've been fortunate to attend many sports events in my day and rarely do I come away massively impressed, but that is exactly how I felt after attending the Singapore Grand Prix.

What is truly remarkable is that the organizers go all out for this event and they have been doing it every year for nearly a decade. They take no shortcuts or half-hearted measures. The race takes place at night, on the roads of downtown Singapore, and it is filled with a whole host of supporting activities and events including world renowned music acts. This year Kylie Minogue, Queen and Imagine Dragons were in town.

The coordination required to pull-off an event like this is immense and in the two days I was at the event I did not encounter or notice a single hitch. If anything I was absolutely floored to find things like the queue for the subway after the race shorter than the normal lines on weekdays after work.

I can't imagine too many places around the globe being able to emulate what Singapore has done with the Grand Prix and long may they be able to host a Formula 1 race. Hats off to the  Lion City.

30 July 2016

Nepalgunj Gold Cup shows glimpse of Nepal's football potential

I wrote the following for the Nepalgunj Gold Cup post-tournament report:
The Nepalgunj Gold Cup is another example of Nepal's football potential. Located in a region of the country where football lacks maturity, this was the first major tournament held in the vicinity for over 35 years and it proved to be highly successful. The crowds were strong, media coverage formidable, and several sponsors such as Yeti Cement and Xiaomi supported the event. Perhaps most impressive was to see Dish Home satellite TV broadcast the competition live on its platform. If Nepalgunj is capable of achieving all of this, the prospects are even greater for the traditional hotbeds of Nepali football in the central and eastern parts of the country which economically also tend to be more robust. 
Undoubtedly, tournaments like the Nepalgunj Gold Cup will help grow football in the local area. If just a few footballers from Nepalgunj and Banke District can then ultimately make an impact on the national stage, already Nepali football will have improved significantly. Now the challenge is for the organizers to give continuity to the Nepalgunj Gold Cup. If they are successful in achieving this, the long-term legacy of the tournament will be formidable.
Opening of the Nepalgunj Gold Cup

13 July 2016

Footballs to Sindhupalchowk

Excited to partner with GoalNepal.com and provide footballs to 12 schools in earthquake affected areas of Sindhupalchowk. I trust that participation in sports will serve as one way to help rehabilitate students from the trauma of the earthquake. Furthermore, I hope the kids at the schools can find the same joy in football and sports that I have found throughout my life and career.

02 July 2016

Iceland’s football style not so unfamiliar to Nepal

Machhindra's former coach Johan Kalin
(This article originally appeared in Republica)

One of the major storylines and remarkable stories of the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament has been the fairytale run of Iceland. A country of just 330,000 inhabitants, long winters and limited outdoor football facilities, is undefeated heading into their quarterfinal match with hosts France.

Iceland’s Euro 2016 journey included a draw against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal side, a victory over the tournament dark-horses Austria and a shocking upset against England.

Coincidentally, there is an obscure link between Iceland’s national team and football in Nepal and it comes via Johan Kalin, the former head coach of Machhindra Football Club, an A-Division club in Nepal. Kalin, who hails from Sweden and continues to coach there at the lower leagues levels, has long been an admirer of fellow countryman and Iceland’s head coach Lars Lagerback.

“My coaching style and philosophy is highly influenced by Lagerback,” claims the 39-year-old, “If you look at the way Machhindra was developed and played when I was head coach it was very similar to Iceland.”

In terms of philosophy, Kalin explains that he sees the game in the same way to Lagerback, who previously coached Sweden from 2000 until 2009.

“We both believe in a foundation of defensive organization, a lot of running, strong team spirit and loyal players. That is what I tried to instill at Machhindra,” says Kalin, who coincidentally resides in the northern part of Sweden which geographically mimics Iceland.

“We played 4-4-2 and started to defend pretty low. We used a zonal defense all over the pitch and our focus was on creating 1 or 2 strong chances instead of 7 or 8 weak ones. Iceland did all this to perfection against England.”

Machhindra’s success under Kalin paralleled Iceland’s achievement of rising from 112 in the FIFA World Rankings to 34th in the latest one.

Perennial relegation candidates Machhindra over exceeded expectations and  finished second in the Martyr’s League A-Division in Kalin’s lone season in Nepal in 2013-14. The White Lions were victorious in all their Super League matches and were only one point adrift of champions Manang Marshyangdi Club in the final accumulated table.

“Like Iceland we did not have the big names in the squad so we had to rely on team spirit and tactics,” Kalin reminisces, “It took some time for the Machhindra players to buy into the concept and we struggled early, but when everything came together we were a formidable force - just as Iceland has become.”

26 June 2016

Ingredients there, but cooks missing

Photo courtesy of GoalNepal.com
I should be used to it by now but I still get chills seeing photos like the one above. Nepal's appetite for football is insatiable. From the capital city of Kathmandu to most rural of villages of the country it is common to see packed crowds at football tournaments and thus fans finding creative means to get a glimpse of the action - whether it is from a rooftop, treetop or mountaintop.

In the last few months, to fill the void of the top level club championship, there have been dozens of tournaments across the country and the crowds, media coverage and sponsorship have been impressive. If all of these assets could be harnessed in a professional and systematic way the potential of Nepali football is massive. The ingredients are all there for Nepali football to flourish, it is just in desperate search for some good cooks.