01 January 2013

Rohit Chand: from Surkhet to Sumatra

Rohit Chand’s football career almost came to an end before it even began. In his first two years at the ANFA Academy he failed to show much potential. He was left out of the Under-13 team that travelled to Pakistan for the AFC Festival of Football. He was overlooked for training excursions at Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds club and Qatar’s Aspire Academy.

With the ongoing scuffle between ANFA and the rival NFA there was uncertainty about funding for the ANFA Academy thus the weakest players were about to be sent home – forever! That included Rohit.

What saved Rohit was his vertical length. “Shyam Thapa (the director of the ANFA Academy at the time) asked ANFA not to let go of Rohit because he was one of the few players at the Academy that had any sort of height,” explains Nabin Maharjan, a coach at SWSC and a former ANFA Academy trainee himself. “Coach Thapa knew a player with stature could come in handy down the road.”

The retained ANFA Academy players, including Rohit, were given a few months off for the festival season. When they came back after holidays Rohit was a different player.

“He went from a very ordinary player to an extraordinary one in just a few months,” remarks Maharjan.

A quick rise to stardom

Rohit Chand during his MFC days
Rohit Chand’s career, which remarkably is still in its infancy  – he is still just 20-years-old, soon took off, but it wasn't always smooth sailing.

One could argue that Rohit started at a disadvantage from birth. He hails from Surkhet, an area in MidWestern, Nepal that is seldom scouted by football officials. “ANFA rarely ever gives an honest chance to any players west of Pokhara and Butwal,” argues Bhoj Raj Shahi, a prominent youth football coordinator in Nepalgunj and also Rohit’s uncle. “There is a perception that players from the MidWest and FarWest lack football instincts like those from Pokhara and Eastern Nepal.”

Despite the demographic stigma, Rohit showed enough promise to get selected into the ANFA Academy and after being saved from the axe by Shyam Thapa, Rohit’s career started to blossom.

He was selected for the Subroto Cup team that went to India and the U16 team that participated in the AFC qualifiers in Iran. He was also drafted into the senior National Team at age 16, becoming the youngest player to ever play for Nepal in a FIFA accredited match.

Upon graduating from the ANFA Academy he signed with Machhindra FC (MFC). Three games into the Martyrs League A Division season he was made captain of the team – at age 17. MFC finished in 6th place that season, its highest position ever in Nepal’s top-flight division. Rohit would earn the award for Defensive Player of the Year.

“You could see that he was a special player the moment he arrived at Machhindra,” says Nabin Chitrakar, an official at MFC and also an adviser to Rohit. “His football IQ was at a different level than any other domestic player.”

With the help of GoalNepal.com Founder and CEO Bikram Thapa and a famous YouTube highlights video created by his Brazilian teammate at Machhindra FC - Daniel Baroni, Rohit soon signed a contract with Indian I-League side Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of Bangalore.

At HAL Rohit started in every game he was eligible to play in. As a defender he even scored a hat-trick in a match against Pune FC. Goal.com named him one of the best foreigners in the I-League. The sky seemed the limit for Rohit.

Broke and without a club

Unfortunately, quite the opposite happened and Rohit’s career came to a screeching halt. Ironically, it was after Rohit was linked with Premier League heavyweights Arsenal and Tottenham and French side Lille that his career stagnated.

With fantasies of playing in the Premier League, Rohit turned down potential lucrative offers from Malaysian and Chinese clubs that were being constructed by a prominent Singapore based player agent. An offer from London – even for a trial, however, never arrived.

“The whole Arsenal, Tottenham and Lille links were a total farce,” says a source with strong links in European Football who asked not to be named. “It was more likely a ploy by Graham Roberts (Nepal’s former National Team head coach and a prominent player at both Tottenham and Chelsea) using his former English football buddies to get himself some media attention back in Britain.”

To make matters worse HAL were relegated and could not afford to keep Rohit on their books. There were also payment issues. Indian clubs, which tend to be obsessed with African and Brazilian talents and East Asians for their Asian quotas showed little interest in signing a Nepali player. Rohit was broke and without a club.

“It was a very difficult time for Rohit and our family,” explains Rabindra Chand, Rohit’s older brother. “There were massive expectations on Rohit. I would get calls daily asking when Rohit was going to Europe, but the truth was he didn’t even have an offer outside of Kathmandu.”

An opportunity in Indonesia

Rohit at PSPS. Photo from Asykar Theking
The Chand family refused to settle on Rohit playing in Nepal. “There were offers for over 1 Lakh Rupees a month from a few clubs in Kathmandu, but we knew for Rohit to develop his game he really needed to play in at least a top Asian league,” Rabindra commented.

Short on options, Rohit and Rabindra turned to an old acquaintance at Machhindra FC, Nabin Chitrakar, who had recently arranged a trial for Santosh Shahukhala at an Indonesian club.

“Ninety-nine percent of Nepali players lack the mental toughness and fighting spirit to play abroad, so I hardly ever bother to forward any resumes to foreign clubs,” claims Chitrakar, the managing director at a prominent cargo company by day and a football agent by night.  “But I had known Rohit well during his time at Machhindra, so I really did not have to think twice before arranging a trial for him. He is one of the few Nepali players that has what it takes.”

Rohit went for trials at Arema Indonesia FC, one of the top clubs in Indonesia. “He played well for them in practice, but he was hampered by a groin injury and they released him,” says Chitrakar.

Rohit fretting having to return to Nepal, then went for another trial at Indonesian Super League outfit PSPS Pekanbaru, a smaller club based in the island of Sumatra. There he played very well in several preseason friendly matches. PSPS’s fan websites were abuzz about Rohit, but the management did not reveal their hand.

“It was really frustrating, Rohit had been there for nearly a month, he played well, the fans loved him, but the club refused to give him a contract,” reveals Chitrakar.

Chitrakar with his counterpart agent in Indonesia then decided to play their own hand. It was a massive bluff! They withdrew Rohit out of PSPS and sent him to a rival club, Sriwijaya FC, for training.  PSPS worried that Sriwijaya might snap up the versatile Gorkhali defender finally presented Rohit with a lucrative contract making him by far the highest paid sportsman in the history of Nepali sports.

PSPS Pekanbaru’s first game of the 2013 ISL season is on January 6th against Mitra Kukar FC and Rohit Chand is expected to be in the starting lineup. Not bad for a kid whose football career almost ended at age 14.