2001, 1991 or 1981 – take your pick. What occurs in a football match isn’t just a 90 minute story, it is part of a novel that begins years back, perhaps even before any of our current national team players were born.
It was ten, twenty, thirty years ago when ANFA and our football clubs should have been developing coaches, creating sound youth programs (and not gimmicks like the ANFA Academy), truly professionalizing the football league and building football facilities (before land prices were 1 crore per ropani).
Neither the twenty member squad that went to Jordan nor their coaches are responsible for the humiliating defeat. They are just victims of an inept Nepali football system that has let football fans and the country down for ages.
It is a system that does not have a single AFC A-License coach when we should have several hundred. It is a system where clubs spend lakhs on senior players and not a penny on youth development. It is a system where fans and news media celebrate a victory over East Timor, the lowest FIFA ranked Asian country, like a victory over Argentina.
Apologists will always bring up our poverty, our dysfunctional government, an unhelpful FIFA/AFC, but riddle me this - just last week ANFA conducted a grassroots-football workshop and coaches from clubs that are the most active in grassroots-football like Bansbari, Madhyapur, Sahara and Oshonik were not even invited. Was this a result of poverty, government, FIFA/AFC, an Indian conspiracy to dominate Nepal or simply pure negligence and incompetence by our football officials?
The list of grievances is endless; therefore, expecting a formidable result by our national team against quality opposition is like expecting a kid who goes to a Nepali government school in Bajhang district with no books or qualified teachers to pass the SLC exam.
Sagar Thapa, Anil Gurung, Rohit Chand, Megh Raj KC and Upendra Man Singh are all students at the School of Nepali Football and Graham Roberts the visiting professor asked to prepare them for an education at Oxford. Class is over kids and Jordan certainly taught us a few lessons!
The roots are rotten
You will only have a strong national team when you have quality players, and quality players are only developed when you have formidable coaches, leagues and youth programs. ANFA could hire Sir Alex Ferguson tomorrow or send the national team for one year training in Brazil, but until the roots of Nepali football are nourished Nepali football will remain a rotting tree.
Let us take youth football as an example. Experts agree that youth football starts as early as age 5 or 6. By age 12 a player should be technically sound. Youth players should participate in 30 to 40 competitive matches a year and need to have played around 10,000 hours of football by the age of 20 to become a top talent. You need a pool of tens of thousands of players to cultivate a single elite player and need well qualified coaches (who understand youth development) to nurture and develop those talents.
Now let’s look at the realities on the ground. In Nepal there is no organized youth football whatsoever until age 12. At age 12 if a player is extremely lucky he can get selected by the ANFA Academy or the 2 or 3 club youth training programs that have recently started. Only at age 12 do players start technical training and usually it is by coaches who have little or no knowledge of youth football development. The academy kids hardly play any competitive matches, maybe a dozen at the most, as there are no opponents to play against. At best there are about 200 players in these academies and the rest of our youth are left to play on city streets or village rice fields. It is no wonder that in the last decade only one Nepali player, Rohit Chand, has gone on to play at the highest level of Indian football, which itself is quite mediocre.
Youth football is just one example of the failing Nepali football system. You could make a similar list of issues in every aspect of football in the country from league organization, club structures, coach and referee development and facility management to things like marketing, sports medicine, news media and even fan culture.
Turning things around
The great news is despite all our challenges football is still king in Nepal. The media coverage, the chatter on Facebook, the packed stands at tournaments and kids climbing trees to watch a match is unrivaled in the region.
The potential to be a great football nation is still there. ANFA, football clubs and even sponsors (see my last GoalNepal article), news media and fans need to simply DO THE POSSIBLE, as in the famous quote, “If you do all that is possible, you will have achieved the impossible.”
The possible road to impossible starts with ANFA developing well qualified coaches. Not one or two but hundreds! Without high quality coaches we will never have high quality players. Second, every club whether it is Laliguras Club of Dhankuta or Three Star Club of Lalitpur need to begin youth football activities - be it a simple after school "football for all" program or an elite youth academy. Only once we have thousands of kids playing organized football will we be able to find 11 players that have the quality to compete against the best sides on the continent.
Do these two things and we will be well on our way to recovering from the 9 goal deficit.