16 November 2013

Chand stands out from the crowd

(An edited version of this article originally appeared in Republica)

It is one of the most exciting days in Rohit Chand’s career. In a few hours time the Nepal national team player will be leaving for Denmark to train with FC Vestsj√¶lland. Playing in a top level European league has always been Rohit’s life long ambition and soon he will have an opportunity to realize his goal if he is able to impress coaches at the Danish Superliga club.

Things have been going remarkably well for Rohit since his calamitous penalty misses in the 2013 SAFF Championship. He agreed to a record breaking short-term contract with a domestic football club, signed several endorsement deals, and reports out of Indonesia claim that numerous clubs there are jostling to acquire Rohit for the new season which is scheduled to start in February.

So how does the 22-year-old, whose life seems to be turning into a bed of roses, begin this momentous day? Perhaps a late rise so he can leave for Europe as fresh as possible or a posh breakfast in a swanky restaurant with friends and family? Yeah right! At 8AM in the morning Rohit is at the Laboratory School football ground in Kirtipur sweating it out on the field with players of NMB Bank Machhindra Football Club, putting in one last training session before he embarks on his Danish adventure.

The irony in Rohit attending Machhindra’s practice is that several of the club’s regular players have found convenient excuses not to come to training - be it the upcoming elections, current bandhs or family obligations. But Rohit is there, trying to acquire any little edge he can to make a strong first impression in Denmark. He trains full speed with the rest of the team, participates in all the physical exercises and converses with Machhindra’s new Swedish coach, Johan Kalin, to get any last minute tips he can about football in Scandinavia.

This type of dedication and determination is what sets Rohit apart from the great majority of football players in Nepal and it is why he is the only player in Nepal’s current national team that is playing in a foreign league.

Call me a Rohit Chand fan boy all you want, but having covered and worked in Nepali football for the last 16 years I can say without hesitation that Rohit is a rare breed.

Foremost, Rohit has ambition. While most Nepali footballers are content playing in Mickey Mouse tournaments across the country and collecting the handsome paychecks that come with it, Rohit always has had his heart set on playing at the highest football level possible. Instead of nagging his first Nepali club Machhindra about petty perks as most foootballers do, Rohit and his family requested club officials to help write his resume, create a YouTube highlights video and search for a foreign club for him.

When it comes to his career, Rohit has always sacrificed money for greater opportunity. He went months without salary while playing for clubs in India and Indonesia. His close advisor Nabin Chitrakar says Rohit’s first priority when searching for a club is the level of the league and that finances are secondary. Contrast that with Nepal national team members who according to Chitrakar contact him regularly about the chance to play in weaker but more lucrative leagues such as that of Bangladesh.

Another of Rohit’s strengths is his mental fortitude. There is a popular joke in Asian football circles that claims, “You can take a footballer out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the footballer.”

Rohit might be from Surkhet, but he is certainly no villager. After botching two penalty kicks in Nepal’s most anticipated football match in two decades, Rohit could have booked the first flight out of the country and gone back to the comforts of Indonesia where he is hero amongst the Persija Jakarta faithful. Instead he stuck it out in Nepal and faced the media and a sea of critics. His steadiness during such a low period in his football career won him admirers and he has been able to leverage that into a popular Facebook page and several sponsorship deals.

While some prominent Nepali footballers complained about homesickness during golden opportunities with clubs abroad, Rohit never flinched. Despite payment issues, he played two years in Bangalore, India for HAL SC without a peep. He was resolute in Indonesia despite being cut by the first team he tried-out for – Arema. Even today as he is pulled in various directions with offers from Nepal, Denmark, Indonesia and Thailand, he takes it all in stride.

A few more Rohit Chands and Nepali football would probably be at another level. Unfortunately, for now, there is only one Rohit Chand.