25 October 2013

A hidden hero of Nepali football

Kumar Pradhan with his protégés Nirajan, Bhola and Sagar
(This article originally appeared in Republica)

One face not present at the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) Congress on Thursday, ironically, might be one of the most important persons in Nepali football. Kumar Pradhan is a name that many even in Nepal´s inner football circles are not familiar with.

The 51-year-old longtime resident of Biratnagar just so happens to be the coach that groomed national football team captain Sagar Thapa and star midfielder Bhola Silwal during their youth football days.

He also played an important role in the careers of other prominent footballers including Nirajan Khadka, Buddha Chemjong and Deepak Rai.

Want more? Mr Pradhan recently sent three players to the ANFA Academy, he was instrumental in organizing grassroots coaching and refereeing courses in Biratnagar (full disclosure - I worked with him on those projects) and regularly prepares and takes teams to tournaments across Nepal and India.

With a resume like that, one would presume he would be a celebrity amongst the football fraternity, but in the enigmatic landscape of Nepali football he is pretty much anonymous. You will not see Mr Pradhan winning a motorbike from ANFA or a NSJF Sports Award anytime soon.

Surprisingly, Mr Pradhan, who once played for the Mechi football team alongside Bagrinath Ale and other prominent footballers, seems oblivious to the fact that he should be getting more plaudits for his career´s work. Asked if he felt shunned when there was no mention of him when his protégé Sagar Thapa became an overnight hero after scoring a miraculous free kick against Bangladesh in the 2011 SAFF Championship, Mr Pradhan had a blank look on his face as if to say, “That never even crossed my mind.”

The lack of recognition of Mr Pradhan highlights many deficiencies in Nepal´s sports sector, including a sports media that fails to chase stories, sports associations filled with cronies and a dysfunctional development system.

In last season´s Martyr´s Memorial ´A´ Division Football League, Mr Pradhan was named the interim head coach of Friends Club and rescued a talented team from a dismal start to the league season. Under his guidance, Friends Club pulled off five victories in a row and qualified for the Super League. Despite the remarkable turnaround by Friends Club, there was hardly a peep in the news media about Mr Pradhan coaching Friends Club or his curious background.

Since holding the position of treasurer of the Morang District Football Association about a decade back, Mr Pradhan has not been asked to be a member of the association in the two previous election cycles. Instead Morang District Football Association´s committee is filled with persons whose contribution to local football is quite questionable.

Despite having developed 10% of Nepal´s current national football team, Mr Pradhan lacks any formal football coaching certification and his understanding of modern coaching methods and international football is limited. One only wonders what type of players he could develop if given access to advanced coaching courses and seminars.

The above complaints are those of this columnist and not Mr Pradhan, who actually seems quite content with his laidback life in Biratnagar. Today, he is a sports teacher at the local Delhi Public School franchise and after classes he continues to train youths in football at Biratnagar´s Sahid Stadium.

Mr Pradhan´s dedication to football is so strong that long after his family, including his wife and three of his four children, moved to Kathmandu he continues to reside in Biratnagar so that he can keep indulging in his passion for coaching football.

For Mr Pradhan, being a hidden hero is not so bad. He is uncomfortable with the spotlight and feels more fame can create more problems. Just being able to coach football to youths on a regular basis is all the reward he requires.