22 March 2012

Youth football

In football at least, Nepal in the mid-2000s did very well in youth tournaments, but that was because the Nepali team was results oriented while other teams were much more development focused.

Results in youth tournaments are not always a good indicator of the strength of youth football in a country as different countries have different objectives for tournaments. For example, Japan usually sends a local school team to the AFC Festival of Football. On the other hand Nepal's U13/14 team comprises of ANFA Academy players that have been living and training together for 2/3 years! They play to their strengths and always try to win, while more mature football nations might take a long term approach and choose to work on their weaknesses and sacrifice results. (And there are some other issues in play which I rather not discuss publicly).

At the end of the day 40, 60, 80 or even 100 kids training in a sole football academy is not going to take Nepali football to the next level. We need tens of thousands kids playing organized football under the supervision of competent coaches. That can only happen if ANFA, clubs and local communities work together.

11 March 2012

Cycle of Doom

If this article sounds familiar, you are not mistaken. I have probably written a similar piece about 5 times in the last 15 years. That is because Nepali football for the last two decades has been in a perpetual “Cycle of Doom”. In my hometown of New York City we call it, “Same shit, different day”.

It’s not an exact science, but here is basically how the Cycle of Doom goes:

1)      Nepal appoints a foreign coach (Stephen Constantine, Torsten Spittler, Graham Roberts) and the coach starts making grand proclamations, wears Nepali “topi” and sings lullabies with the players sending fans into a frenzy. (In fairness, Torsten Spittler was strictly business and did not engage in the aforementioned)

2)      Nepal hosts a major international tournament (SAFF Cup 1997, South Asian Games 1999, AFC Presidents Cup 2005, AFC Challenge Cup 2012) and fans and media think that a golden age in Nepali football is about to start.

3)      Nepal or Nepal’s club representative disappoints in the major international tournament (Basanta Gauchan’s tears-1999, Nirazan Khadka’s agony-2005, Graham Robert’s, “Ask the players” comment-2012)

4)      Nepal/ANFA/Ganesh Thapa gets recognized by FIFA/AFC (FIFA Rankings-2012/2011, Ganesh Thapa becomes AFC Vice President/AFC Gold Medal, Nepal nominated for AFC Association of the Year award-2005) distracting fans and media form the core problems facing Nepali football

5)      Nepal/Nepali Club wins meaningless tournament (Prime Ministers Cup, Subroto Mukerjee Cup (U14), Sikkim Governors Gold Cup) creating false hope

6)      Nepal/Nepali Club gets its ass kicked in FIFA/AFC tournament and Biplav Gautam writes another one of his articles that Nepal needs to focus on developing coaches and youth football

7)      Nepal/Nepali Club whips inferior side (Macau-2001, Abahani Limited-2008, East Timor-2011) but fans and media think we just defeated Brazil/Real Madrid so expectations are high once more

8)      The Cycle of Doom starts again (go back to #1)

At the end of each Cycle of Doom senior sports journalists leave their trade to start NGOs, while die-hard fans get married and have kids and are not able to religiously follow Nepali football anymore, thus we are left with fans and media persons in diapers who think Nepali football’s history began only yesterday and that “Nepal’s fortunes will change once we find a decent striker”.

Sorry kids but Nepali football has been around 80+ years. New Road Team (NRT) is over 75 years-old, ANFA over 50, ANFA Academy has been in place for 13 years. When Naresh Joshi and Nirajan Raymajhi were banging in goals for fun, the problem was defenders, with Graham Roberts’ “World Class backline” (his words, not mine), striking is the issue.

Our National Team hasn’t beaten Maldives, a country smaller than Bhaktapur that is about sink into the Indian Ocean because of Global Warming, in ages. In the meantime clubs from countries like Myanmar and Taiwan have gone from chumps to champs in less than half-a-decade winning the last two editions of the AFC Presidents Cup respectively.

Breaking the Cycle of Doom

So how do we turn the Cycle of Doom into a Cycle of Boom? If you have read my past articles, you have heard it all before, so I’ll be very brief.

Our present challenge is that our current National Team players are simply not good enough to compete at the international level. That is why just one National Team member, Rohit Chand, plays for a foreign club. We need players of a higher standard and that will only come about if we have a large pool of players and intense competition for places.

To develop top talents you first need quality coaches (not tens but hundreds) and a youth system where thousands of kids (not just 40 at the ANFA Academy) are playing organized football and training under the guidance of competent coaches.

There is no rocket-science involved, ANFA as well as clubs, schools and communities need to invest heavily on coaching and youth football. Yes, it’s that simple.

05 March 2012

I really don’t know much about football

Usually when a big soccer tournament comes around I get quite a few requests from the Nepali media to give insights. I’ve always refused because the truth is I really don’t know much about football – well at least the tactical aspects of each game.

Sure, I know a lot of the theoretical stuff – like if you have a team of midgets you need to keep the ball on the ground, but watching a game live I really couldn’t tell you if a player was out of position or the formation changes that the coaches might have made as the game progressed.

The reason for this is that my eyes always drift away from the pitch. My background is in Sports Marketing and Sports Management (as in managing a league, not players) thus I’m much more interested in how the advertising hoardings look than how the defensive backline is holding up. When I’m at game I’m busy analyzing the match day experience, stadium layout, ticketing system, fan interaction, security, food and drinks available and even if the number of urinals in the restrooms is adequate for the size of the crowd. I can’t even begin to count the number of goals I've missed while at a game because I was too busy trying to figure-out where all the TV cameras were stationed.

The reason I will not be attending any of the high profile AFC Challenge Cup matches is because I’ve been to enough of these types of tournaments to have a good idea on all of the above mentioned aspects of the match/tournament, so I have little interest in dealing with the crowds, parking problems, and transportation issues that come along with going to night matches at Dasharath Rangasala.

I’ll just watch the tournament from the comfort of my home and let you know if the match commentators were up to standard, how good or bad the camera angles were and if the halftime commercials provided any value to the advertisers. And if I do go off track and tell you that a certain player stinks, it probably means he’s bloody brilliant!