22 June 2009

Anil Gurung, Nepal's first millionaire footballer

The sport story of this week was the report that Anil Gurung was headed to the UK and would be practicing with the Chelsea reserve sides. Anil will also be going for trials with non-League outfit Woking Football Club. While the Chelsea gig is purely promotional it will be interesting to see how Anil fares at Woking. Certainly a Nepali National Team player should be good enough to impress a 6th division club; however, work permit regulations and ingrained biases against Asian players in England will make it challenging for Anil to extend his career in the UK.

Burried in the Chelsea euphoria was news that Anil has been offerred a lucrative million rupee contract with I-League side Shillong Lajong Football Club. Now this news got me excited! India is a natural destination for Nepali footballers, but no player thus far has been able to crack into the I-League. If Anil signs with Shillong it will be a potential landmark day for Nepali football as many residual benefits could come of it. The Indian league is far better than Nepal's and their clubs pay handsomely. If our players go there it will develop both their talents and wallets. As domestic football is always mired in politics, the option of playing in India will provide a good alternative to our suffering players.

Some may argue that players heading to India will hurt the domestic game and the National Team, but that is completely unfounded. With regards to the National Team, players will be playing a much higher brand of football in India, so their level of play can only improve. FIFA regulations clearly state that clubs must release player for national team duties, thus there should not be any issues when ANFA calls players for international matches.

As for the domestic game - there is nothing to worry about. Our domestic football is at rock bottom already. There has been no league for two years and most of the professional footballers have left football for jobs at home and abroad. I know one player that was so desperate he went to Iraq with a manpower agency! When players see a path to riches in India they will stick with football. They will train and play harder for their Nepali teams in the hopes that they will get scouted by Indian clubs. Nepali clubs also stand a chance to benefit as they could potentially demand transfer fees for their players.

So while most are rooting for Anil to extend his career in England, I'm hoping he takes the million and signs with Shillong to blaze a new trail to India for Nepali footballers.