04 May 2013

A ‘New Road’ for club football - five ways ANFA can help Nepali clubs blossom

Nepali football hit another pothole when the country’s oldest football club, New Road Team (NRT), decided it would not participate in 2013/14 (B.S. 2070) edition of the Martyrs League ‘A’ Division.

As is tradition in Nepal’s football sector, NRT were quick to blame the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) for their predicament. Though a few of their complaints certainly seem valid, it is hard to have sympathy for an 80 year-old club that has failed to develop its own football facilities, an active fanbase or a youth academy.

Club football has a long and winding road ahead of it!
NRT cited their massive debt payments as the principal reason for their withdrawal from Nepal’s top division and hinted that ANFA should have given them a fatter check to cover their losses.

History shows us that if you give a Nepali club 1 Rupee they will spend 2 Rupees and if you give them 1 crore they will spend 2 crores, so it is difficult to envision that any extra subsidy to NRT by ANFA would have healed NRT’s wounds. Besides – if ANFA sent NRT a bonus, they would have to do the same for every other ‘A’ Division club which would inevitably create inflation in the player market thus putting every club right back to where they started.

There are however other more prudent actions ANFA can take to help Nepali clubs develop, become sustainable and more professional. Below are 5 of them. Perhaps NRT, with their revered stature in Nepali football and leadership role at ANFA (NRT’s president Narendra Shrestha is an ANFA Vice President and on the AFC Youth Competitions Committee) should have been publicly fighting for some of points below instead of taking their ball and going home.

Five ways ANFA can help Nepali clubs blossom:

1. Create an independent league management office

Currently, club officials play a large role in the daily running of the Martyrs League. Therefore much of the league’s structure such as scheduling, allocation of prize money and even referee appointments, tend to favor some clubs over others.

An independent league management office made up of professionals that are not associated with any clubs would help make the Martyrs League much more fair to all participants and also help inject some competence to the governance of the League.

2. Introduce club licensing

Clubs in general are averse to change. Club licensing is a way to force clubs to professionalize themselves by creating minimum standards they must meet to obtain a “license” that will allow them to participate in football competitions.

Such standards could be as simple as having to have a club’s logo on their jerseys or as complex as a club needing to have their own stadium. The AFC has many club licensing templates that ANFA could easily modify and adopt. It’s not rocket science!

3. Provide incentives for clubs to professionalize themselves

There are many activities that Nepali clubs neglect because they do not see much benefit in spending resources on them. For example clubs virtually have no marketing and fan development strategies because League ticketing is controlled by ANFA.

If ANFA were to give clubs a quota of tickets and a club’s income from a match came solely from being able to sell their own tickets, then they would be far more inclined to start developing a fanbase.

4. Transform the prize money system

How much money does the winner of the FIFA World Cup earn? It is a question that most people would probably have to Google. We however know exactly how much Nepali clubs will earn by winning the Martyrs League, NCell Cup and the Aaha Gold Cup.

Prize Money is a Nepali obsession that needs to be de-emphasized. Teams that win will undoubtedly get better sponsors and more local support, so it would be fairer and create more competitive football if the prize money pot was transformed into a “participation fee” that was divided somewhat equally amongst all clubs.

In the 2012 English Premier League for example first place side Manchester City received 60 million Pounds from the Premier League while last placed Wolverhampton Wanderers were allotted 40 million Pounds (67% of what the first place team received). Meanwhile in Nepal the first place side receives 78 lakhs (75 lacks prize money + 3 lacks participation fee), second place 38 lakhs and teams nine through sixteen a measly 3 lakhs (4% of what the first placed team received).

5. Encourage long-term contracts and transfer market

In Nepal players are only given one-year contracts, thus clubs lose out on a valuable income source – transfer fees. Furthermore, because players are able to walk away from their clubs so easily, clubs are reluctant to develop youth academies and invest in the development of their current players.

By creating policies that encourage long-term contracts such as clear player transfer guidelines and strong penalties for players that break their contracts (and similar penalties for clubs that do not pay their players on time), clubs would be more likely to sign players to long-term deals which would give them an opportunity to then sell players down the road if they needed to raise capital.