25 June 2012

ANFA needs to Google


Poor ANFA. By far the most active and networked sports federation in Nepal just can’t seem to get it right. Despite all of ANFA’s best efforts Nepal’s national teams continue to time after time come up short in international competitions.

It’s been 18 long years since Nepal achieved a noteworthy result in a tournament of real significance. The AFC Under-22 qualifyiers is but the latest event at which a Nepali national team flamed out on the big stage.

Despite home field advantage, over a months closed-camp training and better benefits than what players of old could dream of receiving, Nepal’s U22s went down to a very mediocre Yemen side and above average Jordanian and Uzbek teams. They did demolish the Bangladeshis, though the fact that all four goals of a traditionally diminutive Nepali side came from headers raises serious questions about the strength of the opposition.

As always after a tournament most are quick to second-guess the coaching, the preparations and the players. Already many are pointing to the lack of friendly matches leading-up to the U22 qualifiers as the culprit. Which is odd because Nepal actually won its first game 4-1 and put on a fairly formidable performance in its second match against Yemen, so it is not like it took a few matches for Nepal to gain its form.

Anyway, these types of micro-analysis are just distractions. What needs to actually be analyzed is not the reasons Nepal failed in this particular tournament, but why Nepali football has been underperforming for 18 years despite an amazing amount of passion and support for soccer in the country.

Why is it that even with the establishment of ANFA Academy, regular club tournaments, several youth competitions and all sorts of rewards and prizes for players Nepal’s international record has not improved?

The problem is that while ANFA may work hard, they do not work smart.  They have been trying to develop a “special sauce” that will take Nepali football to the next level but unfortunately that “special sauce” has been leaving nothing but a bad taste in the mouths of Nepali football fans.

What ANFA needs to do is Google for the right recipe! Instead of trying to create their own “special sauce” it would make far more sense for ANFA to simply choose a tried and tested formula.

In todays information age the best practices in world football are accessible to everyone with just a few clicks on the computer. It is therefore absolutely puzzling to see ANFA so hell bent on doing things their own way instead of just copying what has proven to work around the world.

If ANFA started to Google, what they would find is that:

  • To create top class players you need top class coaches
  • To have a large pool of talents for the National Teams, players need to be training regularly with their clubs
  • Club leagues should be 8-10 months long and played on weekends
  • A football match is a product and fans are the consumers and thus should be treated as such
  • A strong mass base of kids playing football is essential to unearth top quality players
  • Youth football starts as early as age 5 or 6
  • Selection for youth teams needs to be dynamic and not static

On the other hand:

  • Selecting a player at age 12 and hoping one day he will become the next Xavi does not work
  • A 3 month long club league along with a bunch of Mickey-Mouse tournaments does not work
  • A president of a football association sitting on the players bench does not work

Pointing the finger at ANFA is convenient but this argument can easily be extended to all stakeholders in Nepali football including clubs, sports media and fans, all of whom also have failed to adopt many of football’s best practices.

So the next time ANFA or other Nepali football stakeholders start devising their “special sauce” for success hopefully it will be in front of a computer and not on the back of a napkin.

13 June 2012

Journalist vs. Blogger

Lots of times I get grilled by people on why I am not writing about x,y,z topic or going after a,b and c persons. Well, I loved this take by New York Mets blogger Matthew Cerrone on proper journalism versus blogging. It encapsulates my own feelings on the subject.
"I don’t see myself as a journalist. Journalists should always be in the business of seeking more information as they aim to determine truth. I [as a blogger] do that sometimes, but not all of the time. There are some things I just don’t care about. If I don’t care about it, or I’m simply tired of writing about a topic, or if I don’t find it interesting, then I don’t write about it or ask questions about it. There is only so much time in the day and my true love is watching the Mets and hoping they win. That filter and my judgement has done me well in connecting with fans and building the blog. On the flip side, if it’s a topic I do find interesting, I’ll research it and write about it and if that happens to run up against the definition of a journalist (because every one else wants to know about it as well) so be it, but it’s more of a coincidence and a label than anything else."

01 June 2012

High-profile owners unlikely

Photo from Cinesansar.com
The big football news of the day was that of Shah Rukh Khan potentially acquiring a 50% stake in Indian powerhouse side Dempo Sports Club.

Obviously such news immediately gets Nepali football fans dreaming of local corporates and celebrities investing in our own clubs.  Could famed actor Rajesh Hamal make a play for RCT or business tycoon Upendra Mahato start a Roman Abramovich style revolution at NRT?

The quick answer is unlikely. Unless they are truly football ‘pagal’, there are basically only two reasons to invest in a football club – fortune and fame. Neither is really accessible in the current Nepali club football environment.

Fortune

There are four main revenue generators for football clubs – ticket sales, sponsorship, merchandising and TV rights. In the current Nepali football context two of them – ticket sales and TV rights do not really exist (Nepali clubs do not have the authority to sell their own tickets or the TV rights to their matches as everything is centralized with ANFA). Merchandising has limited potential and sponsorship cannot be maximized unless clubs own their own stadium (As they have no rights to hoarding boards, stadium partnerships and hospitality, etc.).

This begs the question, how exactly would a football club plan to break-even? It is not completely impossible but it would require a visionary owner who is willing to make a substantial investment in a club. First and foremost they would need a stadium plan, be it to build a new one or renovate/rent an existing facility as there is absolutely no way a club can be sustainable if they do not have access to ticket revenues.

Fame

One of the big allures of owning a football club is the prestige, networks and perks that come along with it.  Who ever heard of Roman Abramovich or Venkys Group before their takeover of Chelsea and Blackburn respectfully? Today they are hobnobbing with top footballers and have access to many of the most influential businessmen and celebrities around the planet. These are privileges that owning a Premier League club bring.

What exactly would a potential investor get from owning Three Star or Sankata? Dinner with Rohit Chand and Sagar Thapa? Access to Lalit Krishna Shrestha and Indraman Tuladhar?  An exclusive  personal interview in the Kantipur or with GoalNepal? Trust me, just the offer of one plate of MoMo would be enough to secure any of the above benefits. No need to purchase a football club!

So with no fortune and no fame, basically we are left with the third alternative – finding a big-time investor that is absolutely football ‘pagal’ and willing to burn wads of cash on their obsession. Know anyone that fits the profile?