30 December 2011

National League = Champions League

If you think about it, the Nepal National League is actually a Champions League. The top 8 teams  in the Martyrs League 'A' Division are joined by the champions of the East Zone and West Zone. This is similar to how England, Spain and Germany get 4 bids to the UEFA Champions League, while countries like Ireland only get 1 bid.

There is no promotion/relegation and next year all clubs will have to start from scratch and qualify for the tournament again.

Eventually ANFA should combine the National League with the Martyrs League. Create a Premier division and then have an A Division, B Division and C Division below it. B and C Divisions can be regional to reduce costs and travel.

By the way - this is actually Nepal's 3rd National League. First two were held in 1998 and 1999. In 1998 Valley Sporting (Pokhara) and Munal Club (Jhapa) participated. In 1999 The Boys Group (Dharan) and a club from Rupandehi were the non-Kathmandu clubs. Mahendra Police Club (now NPC) won the League both times.

27 December 2011

Best fans in the world?

Photo courtesy of NepalSportsPhoto
Despite Nepal’s ineptitude in international sport, it is amazing how passionate Nepali sports fans are. There was no better demonstration of this than in the beginning of December (2011) when simultaneously  Nepal’s National Cricket and Football Teams were participating in the ACC Twenty20 Cup and the SAFF Championship respectively.

The TU Cricket Ground was packed to the brim for each one of Nepal’s cricket matches and thousands of Nepalis made their way to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India to root for Nepal’s Football Team. While thousands of fans at sporting events is nothing out of the ordinary, the greater context of these events would suggest otherwise.

The ACC Twenty20 Cup is a tournament for Asia’s cricketing minnows. In a day and age when even Test sides struggle to draw healthy crowds, for tens of thousands of fans to cram into the TU Cricket Ground, an absolute bare bones stadium, for matches against obscure opponents is impressive.

Similarly the SAFF Championship is a tournament for the weaklings of international football (i.e. South Asian nations). Attendance for the 2011 edition of the tournament was abysmal, the one bright spot being the Nepali contingent at all the Nepal matches. At least in the group stages, Nepali fans even outnumbered those of the host nation - India.

All this is nothing new. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch Nepali athletes and teams across the globe and seen the passion of Nepali sports fans on many occasions. Here are but a few examples:

1997 SAFF Cup (Kathmandu)
Dasharath Rangasala had an overflowing crowd of around 30,000 for the finals of the tournament, a match which did not even feature Nepal. India and Maldives were the finalists.

1998 Asian Games (Bangkok)
There were dozens of fervent Nepali fans at the Karate and Taekwondo events, more than any other nation except for the hosts Thailand.

1999 AFC Asian Olympic Qualifiers (Hong Kong)
Thousands of Nepali fans attended Nepal’s three matches at the Hong Kong Stadium. They outnumbered locals in the match against Hong Kong. In one of the most infamous events in Asian Soccer, hundreds of Nepali supporters invaded the pitch and then chased and beat-up Malaysian players after a Malaysian player became aggressive against a Nepali player.

2006 AFC U16 Championship (Singapore)
Nearly 2,500 Nepalis attended each one of Nepal’s matches in this youth competition. The non-Nepal games were lucky to even draw 500 fans. The Nepal-Singapore match drew a greater number of Gorkhalis than Singaporeans.

2008 Prime Ministers Cup (Kathmandu)
Virtually every game was packed in this meaningless football tournament where foreign teams disguised as Senior National Teams (ONLY IN NEPAL!) participated. The final match between Nepal and Sri Lanka saw ticketless fans climb trees and scale to the rooftops to catch a glimpse of the action.

2008 AFC Presidents Cup Qualifiers (Kuala Lumpur)
Hundreds of Nepali fans, most of them laborers with little disposable income, showed up to watch Nepal Police Club’s three matches in a tournament that was not marketed at all. AFC staff at the tournament were in shock as they did not expect any fans to turn up as the matches were supposed to be a closed doors affair.

These examples beg the question – are Nepalis the best sports fans in the world? Just imagine how much fan support we would bring if our athletes and teams actually had a good shot at winning something! 

17 December 2011

SAFF Championship 2011: ANFA needs to get real about player development

In preparing for the SAFF Championship ANFA checked all the correct boxes.

They started preparing for the tournament months in advance, they hired a competent foreign coach, they sent the National Team abroad for training, they arranged friendly matches and they enticed players with all sorts of bonuses and rewards.

Despite ANFA’s best efforts and some inspired performances from our players, Nepal was only able to win one match out of four and went out to Afghanistan in the semifinals of the regional competition. It’s now been 18 long years since Nepal has won a senior tournament of significance. Most times, we struggle to even get out of the group stages.

Furthermore, Nepal continues to fail to defeat teams that at least on paper have no business being competitive against us. The Maldives is a tiny island nation with a smaller population than Bhaktapur District. Afghanistan has been ravaged by decades of war. Pakistan is best known for sewing footballs, not kicking them. India is a country solely obsessed with cricket.

Nepal should not just be competitive against our South Asian neighbors, we should be dominating them!

Football is king in the Himalayan Republic. The media attention, fan support, sponsorship (per capita) and passion for the Beautiful Game inside our borders is unrivaled in the region, and even in the continent there are only a handful of countries that can match our enthusiasm.  

So what seems to be the issue? Why do we struggle to even just reach the finals of a South Asian tournament?

To answer this, I refer you to a comment made by Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia in a recent interview. When asked what facilities Indian National Team players need to be able to compete with the better Asian sides, Bhaichung said that Indian players did not require better facilities, but that India required better players. He confessed that even his own standard was not good enough to compete with the likes of a Japan and South Korea or even a Qatar and Bahrain.

Nepal is in the exact same boat. To consistently win in SAFF and catch-up to mid level Asian football nations such as Malaysia and Lebanon we simply need to produce better players. (And for our cricket brothers at CAN, it’s the exact same scenario).
Will these boys become better players than what we've currently got?

Here is one way to look at it. Pretty much every Indian and Maldives National Team member would be able to play for Nepal’s best clubs, such as MMC or Nepal Police Club, yet according to a well respected South Asian football player agent, there are only two or three Nepali players good enough to play for even a lower level first division Indian or Maldives side.

Unfortunately, right now ANFA, our clubs, and football backers have no pragmatic plan to produce higher quality players. The words “football development” rings completely hollow to clubs, while sponsors/backers are still writing blank checks and have shown little vigilance in how their sponsorship rupees are spent.

As for ANFA, they basically have two failing strategies. One is the ANFA Academy and the second is cash rewards. Neither really is much of a strategy at all.

Selecting 40 boys at the age of 12 and expecting them to transform into world class players is na├»ve. There are too many variables that factor into player development and that is why you need a system where tens of thousands of kids are receiving high quality training and not just 40. Nirajan Malla is the classic case. At an early age he was billed as Nepal’s next great striker. He went to Japan for a short training stint with Asian giants Urawa Reds. It is rumored that Qatar’s Aspire Academy was also interested in signing him. As he grew older Nirajan was not able to live up to the hype and as we all know he was not even able to break into Nepal’s SAFF Championship side, a team that was weakest at the attacking positions.    

As for cash rewards, simply put you can’t turn lead into gold, no matter how much money or mutton you have on offer. Players are not suddenly going to be able to shoot better or have greater tactical awareness because a few notes are being waved in front of their faces the night before a match. If it was that easy, oil rich countries like Qatar and Brunei would be winning the FIFA World Cup every time.

ANFA needs to quit with the gimmicks and get real about player development. Churn out thousands of youth coaches that can mold future stars, create a proper scouting network that identifies promising talents, mandate clubs to adopt youth academies, require every tournament to run a parallel junior competition, foster a professional football environment by implementing a club licensing system and have a zero tolerance policy on match fixing. Only after such strategies are implemented can we realistically expect top caliber players – ones capable of competing against the best in Asia - to be born.

One of the most repeated phrases on Internet forums after Nepal’s loss to Afghanistan was “Bad Luck”.  We need to get to a point where our players are just so damn talented that neither “Good Luck” nor “Bad Luck” makes any difference in the final outcome. We’ll win no matter what!

10 December 2011

SAFF Championship: The pride is back

When you play poorly and lose you get a sick feeling. When you lose but play well, your heart sinks. Today most Nepalis are suffering from football heartache and not headache.

The 2011 SAFF Championship in New Delhi was a big step in the right direction for Nepal’s National Team.

Before the tournament many reputed South Asian football pundits were lumping Nepal in the same category as perennial minnows Sri Lanka and Bhutan opposed to the masters Maldives and India. Who could argue with them?

Nepal’s only recent victory against a senior national team came against Bhutan and East Timor the punching bags of Asian football. Nepal was humiliated 9-0 by Jordan in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and lost the majority of its friendly matches in their South East Asian tour including 4-0 to perennial strugglers the Philippines. Was there really any reason to be optimistic?

However something remarkable happened in New Delhi. The team not only came to play, but they turned on the style. With quick, short-passing, attacking football Nepal overran all three of its opponents in the group stage and comfortably qualified for the semifinals of the tournament. In the knockout round Nepal unfortunately missed chance after chance in the first half and ultimately went down to a resilient Afghanistan side. You win some, you lose some.

What was most impressive about Nepal’s performances was the intensity and focus they showed - two traits that have often gone missing for the National Team. Nepali players in the recent past have a history of football load shedding, basically the lights going out at inopportune times, thus making careless mistakes, giving up silly goals and then sulking and conceding even more goals!

The Gorkhali spirit and bravado that was the hallmark of Nepali teams in the 1980’s has also long been absent. These days our players easily get nervous during matches and that extra bit of fight to win the ball, make a tackle, stand-up to the opponent has been a rarity.

This time however things were different. The Gorkhali spirit was back! The team was composed, they were determined, they had grit and they played some very attractive football. All this was perfectly encapsulated in the 96th minute wonder strike by Sagar Thapa – perhaps the most dramatic goal in Nepali football history.

Graham Robert and his coaching staff deserve much credit for developing the team and getting the tactics right. ANFA, sponsors and well-wishers also did their part by leaving no stone unturned in preparing this team for the tournament. The SAFF Championship was truly a great team effort – players, coaches, officials, sponsors and not to forget - media and fans!

There have been very few times recently where we could genuinely be proud to be Nepali football fans. The last week was certainly one of those occasions.

We felt proud to see the resolve of our players.

We felt proud to witness the positive approach of our coaches.

We felt proud to hear foreign teams and commentators call us the best side in the tournament.

We felt proud to know that our fans totally kick-ass - in the stadium, online and at home.

It just felt great to be a proud Nepali football supporter once again.

03 December 2011

SAFF Championship 2011

Semifinal: Nepal vs. Afghanistan (December 9)

Nepal had the possession, but Afghanistan had the goal and earned a 1-0 victory in extra time. Nepal had plenty of chances to score, but the strikers were blunt as was the case this entire tournament.

I'll have lots of articles on the SAFF Championship in the coming days. Stay tuned!

 Nepal vs. Pakistan (December 6)

With their quick, short passing game, for the third consecutive match Nepal were the better side. They took the lead on an inspired side volley by Bharat Khawas in a goalmouth scrap after a Nepal cornerkick. Pakistan equalized at the start of the 2nd half on a penalty kick, but hardly troubled Nepal thereafter. Nepal's attack itself was fairly blunt in the second period save a Sandeep Rai freekick that bounced-off the post.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw and its on to the semifinals for Nepal.

For all its enterprise Nepal seriously has lacked any sort of cutting edge in their attack throughout the SAFF Championship. Nepal's forwards neither have the virtuoso nor the strength and power to get past the oppositions' last line. It's no surprise therefore that all three of Nepal's goals in the tournament have come from set pieces.

Off the pitch, Nepal's hardcore football fanbase kicked-butt as usual. One again thousands were at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium creating a ruckus.

Nepal vs. Bangladesh (December 4)

Nepal continues to impress at the SAFF Championship. Though it took 90 minutes to find the winning goal versus Bangladesh, on an inspirational free kick by Captain Sagar Thapa, for the second game in a row they dominated the opposition.

Nepal has been the most impressive team at the SAFF Championship thus far. With India in disarray, could this be the year?

Nepal vs. Maldives (December 2)

The Boys came to play! Nepal was easily the better side in its first match against the Maldives. From the opening whistle the Maldives were on the back foot, unable to match Nepal’s fitness and intensity. With crisp one touch passing, Nepal attacked in waves. Unfortunately, poor crossing and a lack of shooting power in the final third saw the match end in just a 1-1 draw.

Most impressive was Nepal’s midfield which overwhelmed Maldives and hardly let them within 35 yards of Nepal’s goal. Constant pressure saw Maldives quite flustered and rarely were they able to string together more than 3 or 4 passes. Bharat Khawas in midfield and Robin Shrestha on the wing were a constant threat and could stake claim to the Man of the Match award.

Historically, in pressure situations Nepali players seem to get very tight and nervous and tend to wilt during crunch time. Not today. The players looked very confident from the start and despite going a goal down on a blinder of a shot at the end of the 1st half, stayed composed and were able to level the game in the early part of the 2nd period and kept attacking until the very end. Looks like the ANFA's motivation classes are paying off.

Cash rewards 2.0

I received quite a few emails about my post on Cash Rewards. I quickly wrote the piece immediately upon reading about ANFA’s announcement that they will award Rs.10,000 Rupees a month to players. Reflecting back on my original post I readily acknowledge that I did not articulate myself very well. So let me try to be more clear.

ANFA and Nepali sports associations in general have a long tradition of offering big cash rewards to players before high profile events such as the South Asian Games, Asian Games, SAFF Cup, etc. This is actually not unique and something that almost every sports association in the world does.

There is a big difference however on the reasoning behind the cash rewards. The more sophisticated sports associations across the globe offer cash rewards as a bonus to players for achieving an objective. In Nepal the cash rewards are basically a sports associations’ STRATEGY to win medals and trophies. That is to say that our sports associations actually believe that offering money will increase the chances of winning. 

One way to look at is that we use cash rewards as a carrot while most countries offer it as a dessert. Our way of thinking is flawed. Here is why:

Cash rewards basically serve one purpose – to motivate a player. Cash rewards will not make a player technically more proficient, increase their strength, expand their Game IQ (i.e. “Football IQ”), or develop their tactical awareness. Those are things that can only be developed and improved with years of top class training, coaching and playing. Training habits and game play will not magically get better in a matter of 24 hours, no matter what the incentive.

Nepali players are not underperforming because they lack motivation, they are producing poor results because of inferior training, coaching and access to competitive matches (“playing”).

When Nepali players attend meaningful international events where they have a realistic shot of doing well, I believe that they are very motivated. Contrary to what cynics say, our athletes do take a lot of pride in representing their country. I really don’t believe they suddenly think – “Oh wow! I’ve been offered an extra 1 Lakh Rupees if I win a medal, so now I’m really going to step it up and give an extra 5%”.

On the other hand our sports associations instead of devising sound long term strategies to develop our athletes tend to resort to gimmicks such as these financial incentives and then quickly absolve themselves of complacency and incompetence when results don’t go their way. “Well we offered them 1 Lakh Rupees, what more do you want us to do?” would be a typical response from them.

The proof is pretty much in the pudding as Nepal has miserably failed to make a mark in international sports, so clearly these motivational cash rewards aren’t working.

A parallel I like to draw is that of a parent that desperately wants their child to get First Division in the SLC exam. Do you believe offering a cash reward to a kid one night before the SLC exam is going to make any difference on the results? Perhaps the parent should have enrolled their child at Budhanilkantha School and instilled a good work ethic and discipline many years back if they were truly serious about their child doing well on the SLC exam.

This is not to say that these cash rewards might not have an impact on future athletes. Maybe there is a kid in Jhapa who is now inspired to become a footballer on hearing about ANFA’s generous rewards. If that’s the case – wonderful! But let us not be naive either. ANFA’s announcement has nothing to do with inspiring future footballers. It is clearly about winning the 2011 SAFF Cup, a prize that Ganesh Thapa desperately covets after failing to win a single meaningful tournament in his 15 years as ANFA President.

Nonetheless, whatever the motivation may be, I applaud ANFA for leaving no stone unturned in the last half-year to try and win this edition of the SAFF Cup. The cash rewards on offer will certainly be a great bonus for the players if they are able to fulfill the aspirations of Nepali football fans.

30 November 2011

Cash rewards

It's wonderful that ANFA is offering Rs. 10,000 per month for life to National Team players if they win the SAFF Cup. It's a great potential bonus for the players and their families, but at the end of the day that is all it is - a bonus.

Anyone who thinks money will drive our players to play harder or better is fooling themselves, because guess what? Our players will give it their best no matter what!!!

An athletes performance  is the output of all the training and coaching (input) they received in their life. If Nepal wins the SAFF Cup it will be because our players received better training and coaching from the beginning of their careers than our opponents. If we fare poorly it will be because the training and coaching wasn't good enough. End of story.

See follow-up article CashRewards 2.0

15 November 2011

Social Welfare Sports Centre

When I am in Nepal I try my best to visit as many grassroots sports programs across the country as possible. The only problem is that there are really not that many around. An NGO-Foreign Aid-Centralized Government culture has unfortunately created an environment where people have become used to putting their hands out opposed to getting their hands dirty. Thus one can basically count on two hands the organized grassroots sports programs that exist in the country.

Luckily, through the power of Facebook, I was able to connect with the team running a grassroots football program in the Nayabazaar Dhara neighborhood of Kathmandu and paid them a visit on my most recent trip to Nepal.

On reaching the open sandlot where the unconventionally named club – Social Welfare Sports Centre (SWSC) conducts training, I was pleasantly surprised to see full blown youth football training for multiple age groups – and no it was not the “A FIFA Master/ former AFC official is coming to pay us a visit, so let’s quickly put something together to impress him” variety either. This was a legit grassroots program.

SWSC was established by seven teenage friends in 1999 as a way to provide youths in and around Nayabazaar Dhara a diversion to the distractions of the streets. They hoped to achieve this by providing football training which would help keep kids away from mischief.

Eleven years on SWSC is as active as ever: conducting under-12 and under-16 training for neighborhood kids, organizing small sided football tournaments and also through community outreach programs like providing safe drinking water, immunization drives, and assisting local children with school tuition and in garnering scholarships.

SWSC has also made a national impact in football. Several top division football players including Rupesh KC (HSC), Nabin Maharjan (MMC), and Nirajan Shrestha (UYC) are alumni of the club’s youth training setup. Their senior team recently was promoted to the Martyrs League ‘C’ division and just missed out on qualifying for the ‘B’ division, though they will still participate in the national ‘C’ division tournament as a result of their strong showing in the league.

Irrespective of the on-field successes, SWSC officials assert that the club’s greatest accomplishment has been providing an alternative to the drug and gang culture which many youths in Kathmandu gravitate to as a result of disillusionment or boredom. One club representative commented that in Nayabazaar Dhara one can basically separate the disciplined boys from the wayward ones based on who attends football training.

A grassroots sports program that not only has survived, but thrives after nearly a dozen years is a rarity in Nepal. SWSC’s success lies in the fact that along with football training, they also groom their trainees to take on leadership roles in the club. Thus all of the current SWSC Executive Board members, now in their late teens or twenties, were one time football trainees at the club.

SWSC has also been able to muster considerable goodwill from the local community. As an example a local sporting goods manufacturer Wild Sports has sponsored all the club’s match and training kits. On the other hand, despite their achievements, SWSC receives virtually no support from national institutions, including ANFA. Unlike many clubs and projects, SWSC has little political clout and no famous personality in their ranks thus assisting such a club is generally considered a waste of resources for politically driven organizations. Why help a club that offers no votes or short-term financial leverage?

Fortunately, with the explosion of Nepali sports blogs, websites and Facebook pages, SWSC’s story is no longer hidden. They have recently garnered prominent attention on GoalNepal and have made a name for themselves amongst Nepali football fans on Facebook. With their new found exposure, formidable performances in the Martyrs League and well developed club structures, one can expect to hear much more from SWSC in the near future.

02 November 2011


A few years back ANFA Technical Director Bhim Thapa and I organized a youth football coaching course for Biratnagar Sports Club (BSC). Only a handful of the dozens of club officials we invited for the Opening Ceremony bothered to show-up. We gave them all a Biratnagar Sports Club t-shirt as a souvenir gift.

A couple of days later, we were surprised to see how packed the Closing Ceremony was - especially as it was supposed to be a low key affair and we had only formally invited a few District FA officials. It turns out everyone was there in hopes of getting a free BSC t-shirt! Unfortunately for them we had already given away our extra t-shirts to the local staff (security guards, janitors, etc.) who worked at the school where we conducted the coaching program.

Refusing to take no for an answer, one club official pleaded with me in very broken English for a t-shirt. I guess he thought I would be more inclined to give him something if he spoke to me in my first language. Another official even asked if he could have the BSC shirt I was wearing! Perhaps if I had a six pack like John Abraham I might have considered taking off the shirt and literally flexing my muscles, but unfortunately I'm probably in worse shape than Govinda.

The irony of it all? The club officials, especially from the far off villages, probably spent altogether around 500 Rupees to attend the Closing Ceremony. The BSC t-shirts cost 200 Rupees a piece!

24 October 2011

Teams versus Clubs

Assembling a group of 15-20 very talented players and winning trophies makes you a great team. Having a proper club office, staff, academy, training facility (or regular access to one), merchandising, supporters club and community outreach makes you a great club.

We have lots of football teams in Nepal but very few clubs. The challenge for our football officials is to transform their teams into proper clubs.

I met many team/club officials during my most recent visit to Nepal and the one question I kept asking them was if FIFA President Sepp Blatter were to come to Nepal and visit your club, what would you show him? Save Bansbari, Himalayan Sherpa and a few others, most teams would have little to present other than a dusty office and a few rusty trophies.

04 October 2011

Teach a man to fish

I had been very hands-on in two different sports projects in Nepal. There are several other projects where I am not actively involved, but offer advice and consulting.

As it turns out, the projects that I provide only advice to are progressing far better than the ones I was regularly involved in. The reason? The projects in which I was active in had come to rely on me like the Government of Nepal relies on foreign aid! I helped them find sponsors, secure equipment and market themselves. Unfortunately, instead of learning from me they became dependent on me, therefore nothing got done unless I was involved or I barked some orders.

On the other hand, the projects where I only provide consulting look at me as a knowledge resource and not as an NGO. The projects are eager to learn from me and work among themselves to implement some of the ideas I share with them. They know they will only get a blueprint and must be prepared to do all the heavy lifting.

The moral of my experience: Don’t give a man fish, teach him how to catch some.

15 September 2011

Five ways to develop youth football

Understandably, Nepali football fans are very disappointed with the recent Under-16 results both in the SAFF and AFC U-16 tournaments. Rightly or wrongly ANFA officials have always led us to believe that “We Are the Best at Youth Level,” so the fact that we are failing to get results in the youth ranks is depressing.

It is important to keep things in perspective though. Look at the Maldives for example. Results wise they are miserable at the youth level but their clubs and Senior National Team are very formidable in regional competitions. That is why football development experts almost uniformly say youth competitions are about developing player and not the final score.

Perhaps what is disheartening to Nepali football fans is that we know Nepal is always playing for results and never development and we still lose. Therefore it is like a double negative – not only are we losing, but our players are not developing!

Read the full article at GoalNepal.com

14 September 2011

Nepali players headed in the wrong direction

Jagjit Shrestha and Anil Gurung most recently went West to Germany and England respectively to try their luck in European football. Rohit Chand could join them if his paperwork ever gets sorted. With the help of the Nepali diaspora, and sometimes dodgy agents, footballers are increasingly finding new opportunities to play or at the very least go for trials at Western clubs. There is one slight issue however, the Western clubs we are talking about are not Manchester United or Bayern Munich or even Scunthorpe United or 1860 Munich for that matter. They are semi-pro and amateur clubs buried in the deep pyramid structures of European football.

Read the full article at GoalNepal.com

02 September 2011


I'm taking a break (need to concentrate on a project). Hope to be back blogging soon.

12 August 2011

An apology

1994, the last time Nepal won a South Asian tournament
I apologize for believing in the potential of Nepali football and holding it to very high standards. I feel we are capable of a lot more than just beating the likes of Afghanistan and East Timor and one of our national team players going for trials with a 6th division English semi-pro club.

From now on I will do my best to temper my optimism and learn from our wise and pragmatic soccer officials about Nepal's limitations and insurmountable challenges in domestic and international football.

05 August 2011

Youth Football

Youth competitions are a platform for players to develop. As long as Nepal played well and there are some promising players coming up the ranks that is all that matters. The scoreline is irrelevant. When the focus is on winning, players don't develop as coaches will only concentrate on the players' strengths and not their weaknesses.

ANFA Academy - Dharan (Under 12) trainees

04 August 2011

Rohit Chand

Update August 4: Now Rohit is being linked to Lille!

I was absolutely floored when I saw this on the BBC Website:
1723: FOOTBALL - North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham will battle it out to sign 18-year-old Nepalese defender Rohit Chand, who plays for Indian First Division side Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) SC, reports talkSPORT.
Here's the BBC link and the TalkSport interview. A few websites are re-reporting it here and here and here.

As the former captain and star player of Machhindra FC, Rohit Chand is one of my favorite players. I definitely could see him playing in the the top flight of 2nd tier European league (e.g. Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark) in a few years time - but the Premier League, WOW! that would be beyond my wildest thoughts. Let's see what happens.

Here is a great highlights video of Rohit when he was at Machhindra:

A great interview with him can be found here. His Official Website. Some photos of Rohit (Media are free to use):

24 July 2011

Jordan match was lost decades ago

Nepal did not lose to Jordan 9-0 last night. It lost the match decades ago.
2001, 1991 or 1981 – take your pick. What occurs in a football match isn’t just a 90 minute story, it is part of a novel that begins years back, perhaps even before any of our current national team players were born.

It was ten, twenty, thirty years ago when ANFA and our football clubs should have been developing coaches, creating sound youth programs (and not gimmicks like the ANFA Academy), truly professionalizing the football league and building football facilities (before land prices were 1 crore per ropani).

Neither the twenty member squad that went to Jordan nor their coaches are responsible for the humiliating defeat. They are just victims of an inept Nepali football system that has let football fans and the country down for ages.

It is a system that does not have a single AFC A-License coach when we should have several hundred. It is a system where clubs spend lakhs on senior players and not a penny on youth development. It is a system where fans and news media celebrate a victory over East Timor, the lowest FIFA ranked Asian country, like a victory over Argentina.

Apologists will always bring up our poverty, our dysfunctional government, an unhelpful FIFA/AFC, but riddle me this - just last week ANFA conducted a grassroots-football workshop and coaches from clubs that are the most active in grassroots-football like Bansbari, Madhyapur, Sahara and Oshonik were not even invited. Was this a result of poverty, government, FIFA/AFC, an Indian conspiracy to dominate Nepal or simply pure negligence and incompetence by our football officials?

The list of grievances is endless; therefore, expecting a formidable result by our national team against quality opposition is like expecting a kid who goes to a Nepali government school in Bajhang district with no books or qualified teachers to pass the SLC exam.

Sagar Thapa, Anil Gurung, Rohit Chand, Megh Raj KC and Upendra Man Singh are all students at the School of Nepali Football and Graham Roberts the visiting professor asked to prepare them for an education at Oxford. Class is over kids and Jordan certainly taught us a few lessons!

The roots are rotten
You will only have a strong national team when you have quality players, and quality players are only developed when you have formidable coaches, leagues and youth programs. ANFA could hire Sir Alex Ferguson tomorrow or send the national team for one year training in Brazil, but until the roots of Nepali football are nourished Nepali football will remain a rotting tree.

Let us take youth football as an example. Experts agree that youth football starts as early as age 5 or 6. By age 12 a player should be technically sound. Youth players should participate in 30 to 40 competitive matches a year and need to have played around 10,000 hours of football by the age of 20 to become a top talent. You need a pool of tens of thousands of players to cultivate a single elite player and need well qualified coaches (who understand youth development) to nurture and develop those talents.

Now let’s look at the realities on the ground. In Nepal there is no organized youth football whatsoever until age 12. At age 12 if a player is extremely lucky he can get selected by the ANFA Academy or the 2 or 3 club youth training programs that have recently started. Only at age 12 do players start technical training and usually it is by coaches who have little or no knowledge of youth football development. The academy kids hardly play any competitive matches, maybe a dozen at the most, as there are no opponents to play against. At best there are about 200 players in these academies and the rest of our youth are left to play on city streets or village rice fields. It is no wonder that in the last decade only one Nepali player, Rohit Chand, has gone on to play at the highest level of Indian football, which itself is quite mediocre.

Youth football is just one example of the failing Nepali football system. You could make a similar list of issues in every aspect of football in the country from league organization, club structures, coach and referee development and facility management to things like marketing, sports medicine, news media and even fan culture.

Turning things around
The great news is despite all our challenges football is still king in Nepal. The media coverage, the chatter on Facebook, the packed stands at tournaments and kids climbing trees to watch a match is unrivaled in the region.

The potential to be a great football nation is still there. ANFA, football clubs and even sponsors (see my last GoalNepal article), news media and fans need to simply DO THE POSSIBLE, as in the famous quote, “If you do all that is possible, you will have achieved the impossible.”

The possible road to impossible starts with ANFA developing well qualified coaches. Not one or two but hundreds! Without high quality coaches we will never have high quality players. Second, every club whether it is Laliguras Club of Dhankuta or Three Star Club of Lalitpur need to begin youth football activities - be it a simple after school "football for all" program or an elite youth academy. Only once we have thousands of kids playing organized football will we be able to find 11 players that have the quality to compete against the best sides on the continent.

Do these two things and we will be well on our way to recovering from the 9 goal deficit.

18 July 2011

Sponsors need to flex their muscles

The list of sponsors in Nepali football is quite impressive. It reads like the who’s who of international brands – Red Bull, Samsung, Pepsi, Western Union, LG, CocaCola, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Mahindra, etc. Add to that all our home brands like Nepal Telecom, Mega Bank, Nepal Bank Limited and Yeti Airlines.

The only thing more remarkable than all the sponsors in Nepali soccer is the lack of development of football in the country despite all those sponsors!

In Nepal, sponsors dump money on ANFA and clubs and – well, that’s basically about it! They pretty much close their eyes to the ails of Nepali football, pat themselves on the back for doing their corporate social responsibility, and put nice little photos in their annual reports about how they are helping to develop sports in Nepal.

Read the full article at GoalNepal.com

14 July 2011

Match Fixing

Match Fixing in Nepal is like a geometric proof. Team A does it with Team X because Team B did it with Team Y because Team B was worried that Team C might do it with Team Z and know that Team D will help Team A if necessary.

Officials of Team A,C and Z are all ANFA members, official of Team B is the match commissioner, the match referee used to play for Team D and the sponsor's grandson works at Team X. And finally, the reporter writing about all this outrage is a board member of TeamY!

07 July 2011

Nothing's really changed

Just got back from a trip to Nepal. Nepali football pretty much keeps trudging along as usual. Several football official remarked how competitive the Martyrs League is this year. Even unfancied clubs are holding their own. This is primarily due to the influx of foreigners who have helped create somewhat of a level playing field. Unlike leagues abroad where all the best players, including the foreigners, go to the richest clubs - Nepal's transfer market is not so sophisticated as of yet and the best foreigners can many times land on some of the smaller teams like Bansbari and JYC.

The same issues pretty much ail football in Nepal. Match fixing is rampant (though much more veiled than before), there is no youth football (other than at Bansbari and Madhyapur Thimi), and referee and coach development are at a standstill. The country goes into euphoria when Nepal beats teams ranked 50 spots below them in the FIFA Rankings showing just how low our expectations have become.

Nonetheless, when the national team plays the stadium is packed, media coverage is solid, sponsorship is at an all time high and enthusiasm for the sport remains strong. We've still got many problems and we've still got enormous potential. Nothing's really changed.

11 June 2011

Nepal Government out of touch

Photo taken from Himalayan Times
ANFA needs to be congratulated for convincing the Government of Nepal in awarding cash prizes of Rs. 50,000 to each player on the Nepal National teams (mens and womens) that qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup finals and finished 2nd in the SAFF Womens Football Championship. That is a massive amount of money for essentially trivial accomplishments.

Nepal's Mens National Team has qualified for the final round of the AFC Challenge Cup before, so this by no means is a historic feat. To qualify they beat Afganistan, drew against Sri Lanka and lost to North Korea. Nothing spectacular there either, though ironically the 0-1 loss to North Korea, a FIFA World Cup participant, was probably the the most impressive result out of the three.

Nepal's Womens National Team finished second to India in the SAFF Womens Football Championship which basically comprised of India and a bunch of Muslim nations (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, etc.) where womens football is just sprouting.

So basically Nepal Government is giving Rs. 50,000 per player for beating Afghanistan, a country ranked lower than Nepal in the FIFA Rankings and reaching the finals of a virtually non-competitive tournament. As a football fan this is terrific! Well done ANFA! But as a Nepali this is ridiculous and sad. It just confirms how out of touch our government is.

Addendum: Nepal's Judo team bagged a few gold medals at the recent South Asian Judo Championships and Keshari Chaudhary just broke two national records in Athletics. I wonder how much Nepal Goverment is planning to award them? Surely it should be more than Rs. 50,000? (Don't bet on it!)

06 June 2011

01 June 2011

Domestic sports have "SCOPE"!

Records holder Keshari Chaudhary
Keshari Chaudhary last week broke two national records in Athletics. Along with her previous record in the High Jump, she now also holds the womens records for the Triple Jump and Long Jump.

Her national records in any of those three disciplines would not be even good enough to qualify her for the Olympics. But does it really matter? She is the best Nepali at what she does and that's a great achievement in its own right.

(FYI - She's also a national level cricket player, thus arguably making her Nepal's top sportsman.)

I really wish Keshari's records garnered more fanfare. I for one would have loved to have been at the stadium to witness them. She and not the likes of the football team that won a meaningless international friendly tournament (i.e. Prime Ministers Cup) against weak opponents should be having audiences with our country's leaders.

All this leads me to my next point. The one phrase that really irks me when reading Nepali newspapers and forums is when sports journalists/fans and even sports officials talk about a certain sport "not having scope". If organized and developed properly, every sport except for maybe surfing (sorry but there are no beaches in Nepal) has scope. Just because we are unlikely to compete well at the international level does not mean we cannot have well run and exciting competitions domestically. Football and golf are the classic examples. We lag quite far behind other nations in those two sports but have immensely popular and well covered football and golf competitions.

In my eyes the sports that have the most scope in Nepal are actually ones we might perennially struggle in internationally because of our diminutive stature - such as basketball and volleyball. Due to our geography and the lack of parks and fields in major cities, basketball and volleyball are two sports that are well suited for the hilly regions and our schools and colleges which are all devoid of open spaces. As an example, basketball is a religion in the Philippines, but they do not have a single player in the NBA and their national team stinks, even at the Asian level! We ourselves should look to develop sports like basketball and not worry if a Nepali will ever be able dunk the ball like Blake Griffin.

Let's send the phrase "not having scope" to Arya Ghat and get excited about all domestic competitions and athletic achievements - like that of Keshari's, whether they are internationally significant or not. If it happens in Nepal, it's significant to us!

(Mea Culpa: I've not always held this sentiment - as you may have noticed if you read my Karishma Karki article a long time back, but I guess as we grow older we get wiser)

16 May 2011

Dysfunctional clubs need to hire CEOs

Machhindra FC jerseys - nowhere to be found!
Last year Machhindra FC had a plan to market and sell its kits. The goal was to sell 1,000 jerseys at a 100 Rupees profit per shirt meaning a tidy 1 Lakh in extra revenues for the Red Lions.

MFC planned to promote the kits by running contests on Call Kantipur, GoalNepal, Facebook, and various other media outlets. The shirts were to be sold outside the stadium, at the club’s premises and in sports shops all across Kathmandu.

Before the plan could be executed a jersey design had to be agreed upon. Unfortunately the nine member Machhindra Executive Board could not rally around a design. Some wanted more red on the jerseys while others wanted more white. Some wanted stripes, others wanted checkers. Some wanted Adidas and others demanded Nike. In the end the project completely collapsed and the only way to get a Machhindra FC jersey these days is by stealing one from a current player.

Read the full article at GoalNepal.com

03 May 2011

Not so quiet on the Mid-Western front

I made my first trip to Mid-Western Nepal last week.

To be perfectly blunt, I’ve never really heard anyone say anything positive about the Mid-West and given that I had to go through some notorious areas of Uttar Pradesh to reach Nepalgunj, the largest city in the region, I was a bit on edge about the whole trip.

Nepalgunj proved to be much different than I anticipated. It is a bustling border-town not much different than many of the small cities across the country. In fact it is far more spread-out and seemed to have a lot more hotels and restaurants compared to many of the towns I frequently visit in Eastern Nepal. True to its name, the majority of the locals are Nepali speaking.
Bageshwari Temple of Nepalgunj
Western Nepal, that is to say the areas west of Pokhara and Butwal, now designated Mid-Western and Far-Western regions, are perhaps the poorest areas of the country. It was in these same lands that much of the Maoist insurgency gained momentum in its early years.

Poverty in the West is not limited to economic deprivation. Historically, sporting accomplishments by athletes and teams from the far-flung Western regions have also been poor. Locals point to bad role models as a major culprit. While Eastern Nepal’s proximity to West Bengal and Northeast India – a hotbed of Indian sport, helped them develop their sporting prowess, Far-West and Mid-West Nepal had an uninspiring mentor in Uttar Pradesh.

From anecdotal evidences I saw on my brief trip to Banke district (which includes Nepalgunj and the burgeoning highway town of Kohalpur), sports in the Mid-West is waking-up.

The tide has already turned in one area – women’s sports. The successes of womens’ national teams in football and certainly in cricket have been fueled by a roster stacked with Western ladies. Embarrassingly, that is the one sports development question this so called sports development expert forgot to ask during my trip – “Why is the Mid-West producing so many female athletes?” I’ll be sure to get the answer soon.

Oshonik Club is one club that has contributed to the development of womens sports in the region. For several years they have been conducting football clinics for girls across Banke district. With dozens of lady footballers as alumni, they now have a strong pool of players to form teams from and as expected do very well in womens and girls tournaments in the region. Club officials decided to begin with ladies football training as they felt it would be easier to manage compared to boys training which tends to be rife with egos and indiscipline.

Now though, the club has become gender neutral as they have also begun under-12 training for boys. There are currently around 35 trainees who are practicing at a small field owned by a local private school. The club hopes to branch out its training to other neighborhoods of Nepalgunj to increase accessibility.

Oshonik Club's Under-12 training
Oshonik Club and its president Bhoj Raj Sahi have some big plans for the future and look to emulate best practices of similar types of clubs from across the globe. As superstition dictates it’s better to show than to tell, so I’ll have to keep their ambitious plans under wraps for now. Let’s just say this is one club in Nepal that “gets it”.

A few kilometers north of Nepalgunj I visited the public field in Kohalpur town. One of the strongest teams in the district – Siddhartha Club was training there. Who said they don’t play football in Western Nepal? The boys from Siddhartha looked the part and were as good as any local level football club I have seen. If they are a representative snapshot of what the Western regions have to offer – then the big Kathmandu Valley based clubs would do well to send a few scouts over there.
Siddhartha Club training in Kohalpur
This was a football centric trip but while I was touring the government sports complex back in Napalgunj I bumped into national badminton player Anil Lakhe who was training around two dozen under 12 boys and girls inside the covered-hall. I immediately assumed he must be a sports teacher at a rich private school and coaching a few of his well-to-do students. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that on his own initiative he was developing an academy style training program, open to all, to groom the next generation of badminton players. Much like Bhoj Raj Shahi and a few others I had met on this trip, Anil seemed to have a certain fire and spirit about him which surely is good news for the future of sports in the Mid-West.
A brief chat with football friends from Banke
Certainly all these anecdotes are not out to prove that Nepalgunj/Banke is fast becoming the People’s Republic of China of Nepali sports. They face all the same sporting sector challenges that virtually every area in Nepal faces and I am sure had I spent more time there I would have come across the darker side of sports in the region. But while sport in many parts of the country is flatlining, it is good to know that at least in this one corner it has a pulse.

27 April 2011

Nepalgunj sports complex

Nepalgunj Stadium is actually quite nice in the Nepali context. It has a permanent wall around the perimeter thus the pitch is relative undisturbed. The running track built for the National Games has deteriorated but still provides a circuit for jogging. There is one small elevated VIP area on one side and a small 1,000 person stand on the opposite side. Overflow crowds sit on the grass areas around the field. If a team from Banke makes it to the ANFA National League the stadium should be adequate enough to host matches.

The covered hall is actually quite big - again, in the Nepali context. There are three badminton courts marked on it. As the wooden floor is worn-out and not level it is doubtful that any team sports like basketball or handball can be played inside it. There is one 500 person stand on one side of the hall.

Outside the stadium there is what looks like a 5-a-side football field. At the time this photo was taken there were some martial artists training on it. The sports complex also has a gym and shooting range, but they were locked when I visited.

07 April 2011

I Love Nepali Football

The I Love Nepali Football t-shirt promotion reminds me a lot of the Be The Reds campaign in Korea during the 2002 FIFA World Cup (how could anyone forget it? Wink, Wink!).

The initiative, spearheaded by GoalNepal, is creating decent buzz. On Facebook quite a few die-hard football fans have changed their profile photo to the I Love Nepali Football logo. A few hundred fans are expected to be wearing the t-shirts at the AFC Challenge Cup being held in Kathmandu this week. As I alluded to a few weeks back, Nepal never has really had much of a supporters culture, so it is really encouraging to see someone try an initiative like this.

01 April 2011

An amazing ride with Nepali sports

Rangasala Blog achieved its 2nd anniversary last month. To celebrate I’ve written a special post about how Nepali sports have impacted my life. Enjoy!

I’ve been involved in Nepali sports for around 14 years and it’s been absolutely amazing!

To make a very long story short – living in the USA I was starved for Nepali football news and presumed there were many people like me out there, so in 1997, as a freshman in college, I created a website dedicated to Nepali soccer called Nepal Football Homepage.

Through Nepal Football Homepage I developed links with many people in the international and domestic sports sector. One thing led to another and for the next 14 years I’ve been actively developing, covering, and following sports in Nepal and it’s been a phenomenal experience in so many ways.

Taking in a view of the tea fields of Ilam
Discovering Nepal
Having been raised in the USA for the majority of my life Nepal basically meant Kathmandu and the only Nepalis I knew were my relatives. That has all changed now.

Through my involvement in Nepali sports I’ve gotten to know so many people I would never have – athletes, businessmen, journalists, sports officials and most importantly – sports fans!

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many corners of this gorgeous country and experience its rich cultures and customs. I probably now know Nepal a lot better than many Nepalis do!

Making a difference
When your relatives are stuffing you with food every chance they get and you encounter so many smiling faces on the roads of Kathmandu often the depth of poverty in Nepal is not glaringly apparent. Through my experiences in Nepali sports I’ve come to realize that acquiring just a single ball, a single boot, a coaching manual or a copy of a rulebook is actually quite a big deal to many.

Donating equipment to a girls team in Urlabari, Morang
I remember once visiting Ramailo Sports Club, a club based in a far flung village in Morang district. They were the DISTRICT FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS, but the club had no more than two or three footballs, which were all quite old and worn-out. Half their players did not have football boots, their coach had never seen a football instructional book or video in his life and their uniforms were basically the bibs that the District Football Association would loan them on match days.

With the help of friends and acquaintances and for an amount that is probably less than what I spend on junk food every year, I’ve been privileged enough to able to donate sports equipment and materials, organize workshops and offer guidance to various sports enthusiasts and entities in Nepal. The projects I’ve assisted on have given sporting opportunities to many youths and helped develop players, coaches, officials, clubs and sports associations, including several that have gone on to make a mark on the national and international stage.

Understanding Nepal
Through sports I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of Nepal. I’ve had many wonderful encounters and met some amazing people. I’ve also been cheated, robbed, tricked, misled, used, abused, taken advantage of. I’ve been embroiled, front and center, in messy sports politics and have had to navigate many roadblocks and unnecessary hassles even for the most trivial things.

It has been fulfilling and frustrating, thrilling and at points blood boiling. The experiences have helped me understand Nepal better – how things work in the country and why things don’t work in the country. Three years and no national constitution in sight – it makes sense to me now.

Friends for life
After working 14 years in a field, undoubtedly you make quite a few friends. I’ve now got Nepali sports buddies from Mechi to Mahakali – well at least up to Seti Zone (Dhangadhi), and internationally from Milan to Malaysia. They include some of my best friends today and my business partners, all of whom I met as a result of my involvement in Nepali sports.
Racing rickshaws in the Terai
It’s pretty surreal to know that in over 30 different districts in Nepal I’d probably have at least one sports related friend that I would be able to sit down and have a cup of tea with. One time when I travelled from Biratnagar to Bagdogra Airport in Darjeeling I stopped at 7 different points (Duhabi, Itahari, Patri, Urlabari, Birtamod, Dhulabari, Kakarbhitta) to meet the many friends I had all along that route. The 140 kilometer journey took over 8 hours and I nearly missed my flight home!

Job experience
Nepali sports opened a lot of doors for me. As Nepal Football Homepage was the first Nepali football website, many international media were quick to contact me when needing information on Nepali soccer. I started developing a significant network of sports industry professionals from around the globe.

Meeting with NPC officials at AFC House
I wrote articles for FIFA, AFC, FourFourTwo magazine and assisted several sports TV programs. Machhindra Club brought me on as an advisor to their Executive Board and I helped them find sponsors and develop their marketing.

I leveraged all this experience and was admitted into the FIFA Master program and then was hired by the Asian Football Confederation as a Development Officer. Now I’m in Hyderabad running my own company that develops sports related web applications.

Fun! Fun! Fun!
Being involved in Nepali sports has been fun. I’ve watched Nepali teams and athletes play in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. I’ve gone on excursions all across Nepal. I’ve been invited into many homes and been able to taste all sorts of cuisine (Jhapali wild boar being my favorite! Thank you Pankaj dai!).

I’ve also had many interesting conversations, heart warming interactions, and yes, even a couple of very wild nights.

Get involved!
Nepali sports have been awesome to me and I would encourage anyone that is passionate about sport to get involved. Certainly there are many challenges and undoubtedly you’ll encounter many bumps on the road – that’s just a part of life in Nepal these days. Take it all in stride and be persistent and through Nepali sports you are sure to have many memorable experiences, meet some wonderful people, make a positive difference and have loads of fun along the way.