05 January 2013

Cargo agent to sports agent

Chitrakar with Eze Collins (left) and Daniel Baroni (right)

It has been a great few weeks for Nabin Chitrakar. In the span of less than a month he orchestrated the one million Rupee sponsorship deal between NMB Bank and Machhindra FC, engineered Rohit Chand’s historic move to Indonesian club side PSPS Pekanbaru and has helped over a dozen foreign players settle into Nepali club sides for the Martyrs League ‘A’ Division. 

In Nepal’s football circles Chitrakar’s mobile number is quickly becoming a must have. His slew of contacts, outgoing personality and negotiation skills is slowly garnering him the reputation of Nepal’s Jerry Maguire.

“I’m an accidental agent,” says the 40-year-old resident of Basantapur.

Chitrakar, the director at Muktinath De Cargo, a prominent export/import cargo company based in Thamel, was asked to join Machhindra FC as an adviser to the Executive Committee six years ago. Soon he found himself not just exporting and importing cargo, but also football players and coaches.

“The burden of finding foreign players for the club was put on my shoulders,” he claims. “That forced me to quickly make contacts with players and agents around the globe and also exposed me to the business side of football.”

Chitrakar has been a pioneer ever since his association with Machhindra FC. He helped land Nepal’s first ever foreign coach at a club side when MFC roped in Nigerian Tope Fuja to manage their team. He later brought the first Brazilian player to Nepal in Daniel Baroni. Through his international contacts he has also helped send talent the other way when arranging a trial for Santosh Shauhukhala at Indonesian powerhouse side Sriwijaya FC. 

A part-time career as a sports agent has not always been comfortable for Chitrakar. Baroni struggled during his single season in Nepal and several African players brought in by Chitrakar found glory not at Machhindra but for rival clubs.

“What people fail to understand is that environment plays a big factor for players. Baroni was playing in the top leagues in Malaysia and Indonesia and could not adjust to the awful pitch at Dasarath Rangashala,” defends Chitrakar.

As for the African players that went to other clubs, he argues that Machhindra was too slow to make a decision. “The players had bills to pay and family to support so I helped them find other clubs. Unfortunately, some of them turned out to be a lot better than the ones Machhindra eventually settled on.”

Another sensitive issue for Chitrakar is money. Seeking commissions and remunerations is still frowned upon in the close-knit world of Nepali football.

Chitrakar asserts that he has not asked for payment on most of the deals he has put together, though he does plan on charging fees going forward.

“People don’t understand how much work it takes to negotiate a deal. They think things get done with just a single thirty-second phone call,” explains Chitrakar. “When there is a lack of compensation it leads to a lack of professionalism and corruption and that is what Nepali football is really struggling with these days.”

The upsides however have far outweighed the downsides of being a sports agent. Rohit Chand’s signing with Indonesian Super League side PSPS Pekanbaru might be a seminal moment in Nepali soccer.

“This is the first time a Nepal National Team player has played for a top-flight club outside of South Asia,” Chitrakar says with pride. “It will really help highlight Nepali football across Asia and hopefully also inspire a new generation of Nepali players.”

Already numerous Indonesian and Asian football outlets have featured posts and articles about Rohit’s historic signing.
Chitrakar (far right) at NMB Bank MFC press conference

Chitrakar is also very enthusiastic about the sponsorship deal he helped put together between NMB Bank and Machhindra FC. He says it is a groundbreaking sponsorship because it is much more marketing driven than an exercise in Corporates Social Responsibility (CSR).

“What I love about the NMB Bank sponsorship is that they really want to use football as a platform to create brand awareness for their company. This is much more than a just donation to a local club,” Chitrakar explains. “Furthermore, they are using the sponsorship as a ‘B2E’ (Business to Employee) tool to help create unity and spirit within their corporation.”

The last few NMB Bank Machhindra FC games have been attended by dozens of zealous NMB Bank staff that have provided an entertaining excursion for employees of the company.

Other than his day job at the Cargo firm, there really is no life outside of football for Chitrakar.  Along with his sports agent work, he is also the president of the Arsenal Nepal Supporters Club, freshly completed the FIFA Futuro course, and recently took his family on vacation to Pokhara – to watch the Safal Cup football tournament!

While Chitrakar is making a name for himself, he still is a distant second in his family when it comes to fame. His younger sister is none other than Nepali pop music diva Nalina Chitrakar. However, at the rate he is closing sports deals it might not be too long before he is on level footing.

01 January 2013

Rohit Chand: from Surkhet to Sumatra

Rohit Chand’s football career almost came to an end before it even began. In his first two years at the ANFA Academy he failed to show much potential. He was left out of the Under-13 team that travelled to Pakistan for the AFC Festival of Football. He was overlooked for training excursions at Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds club and Qatar’s Aspire Academy.

With the ongoing scuffle between ANFA and the rival NFA there was uncertainty about funding for the ANFA Academy thus the weakest players were about to be sent home – forever! That included Rohit.

What saved Rohit was his vertical length. “Shyam Thapa (the director of the ANFA Academy at the time) asked ANFA not to let go of Rohit because he was one of the few players at the Academy that had any sort of height,” explains Nabin Maharjan, a coach at SWSC and a former ANFA Academy trainee himself. “Coach Thapa knew a player with stature could come in handy down the road.”

The retained ANFA Academy players, including Rohit, were given a few months off for the festival season. When they came back after holidays Rohit was a different player.

“He went from a very ordinary player to an extraordinary one in just a few months,” remarks Maharjan.

A quick rise to stardom

Rohit Chand during his MFC days
Rohit Chand’s career, which remarkably is still in its infancy  – he is still just 20-years-old, soon took off, but it wasn't always smooth sailing.

One could argue that Rohit started at a disadvantage from birth. He hails from Surkhet, an area in MidWestern, Nepal that is seldom scouted by football officials. “ANFA rarely ever gives an honest chance to any players west of Pokhara and Butwal,” argues Bhoj Raj Shahi, a prominent youth football coordinator in Nepalgunj and also Rohit’s uncle. “There is a perception that players from the MidWest and FarWest lack football instincts like those from Pokhara and Eastern Nepal.”

Despite the demographic stigma, Rohit showed enough promise to get selected into the ANFA Academy and after being saved from the axe by Shyam Thapa, Rohit’s career started to blossom.

He was selected for the Subroto Cup team that went to India and the U16 team that participated in the AFC qualifiers in Iran. He was also drafted into the senior National Team at age 16, becoming the youngest player to ever play for Nepal in a FIFA accredited match.

Upon graduating from the ANFA Academy he signed with Machhindra FC (MFC). Three games into the Martyrs League A Division season he was made captain of the team – at age 17. MFC finished in 6th place that season, its highest position ever in Nepal’s top-flight division. Rohit would earn the award for Defensive Player of the Year.

“You could see that he was a special player the moment he arrived at Machhindra,” says Nabin Chitrakar, an official at MFC and also an adviser to Rohit. “His football IQ was at a different level than any other domestic player.”

With the help of GoalNepal.com Founder and CEO Bikram Thapa and a famous YouTube highlights video created by his Brazilian teammate at Machhindra FC - Daniel Baroni, Rohit soon signed a contract with Indian I-League side Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of Bangalore.

At HAL Rohit started in every game he was eligible to play in. As a defender he even scored a hat-trick in a match against Pune FC. Goal.com named him one of the best foreigners in the I-League. The sky seemed the limit for Rohit.

Broke and without a club

Unfortunately, quite the opposite happened and Rohit’s career came to a screeching halt. Ironically, it was after Rohit was linked with Premier League heavyweights Arsenal and Tottenham and French side Lille that his career stagnated.

With fantasies of playing in the Premier League, Rohit turned down potential lucrative offers from Malaysian and Chinese clubs that were being constructed by a prominent Singapore based player agent. An offer from London – even for a trial, however, never arrived.

“The whole Arsenal, Tottenham and Lille links were a total farce,” says a source with strong links in European Football who asked not to be named. “It was more likely a ploy by Graham Roberts (Nepal’s former National Team head coach and a prominent player at both Tottenham and Chelsea) using his former English football buddies to get himself some media attention back in Britain.”

To make matters worse HAL were relegated and could not afford to keep Rohit on their books. There were also payment issues. Indian clubs, which tend to be obsessed with African and Brazilian talents and East Asians for their Asian quotas showed little interest in signing a Nepali player. Rohit was broke and without a club.

“It was a very difficult time for Rohit and our family,” explains Rabindra Chand, Rohit’s older brother. “There were massive expectations on Rohit. I would get calls daily asking when Rohit was going to Europe, but the truth was he didn’t even have an offer outside of Kathmandu.”

An opportunity in Indonesia

Rohit at PSPS. Photo from Asykar Theking
The Chand family refused to settle on Rohit playing in Nepal. “There were offers for over 1 Lakh Rupees a month from a few clubs in Kathmandu, but we knew for Rohit to develop his game he really needed to play in at least a top Asian league,” Rabindra commented.

Short on options, Rohit and Rabindra turned to an old acquaintance at Machhindra FC, Nabin Chitrakar, who had recently arranged a trial for Santosh Shahukhala at an Indonesian club.

“Ninety-nine percent of Nepali players lack the mental toughness and fighting spirit to play abroad, so I hardly ever bother to forward any resumes to foreign clubs,” claims Chitrakar, the managing director at a prominent cargo company by day and a football agent by night.  “But I had known Rohit well during his time at Machhindra, so I really did not have to think twice before arranging a trial for him. He is one of the few Nepali players that has what it takes.”

Rohit went for trials at Arema Indonesia FC, one of the top clubs in Indonesia. “He played well for them in practice, but he was hampered by a groin injury and they released him,” says Chitrakar.

Rohit fretting having to return to Nepal, then went for another trial at Indonesian Super League outfit PSPS Pekanbaru, a smaller club based in the island of Sumatra. There he played very well in several preseason friendly matches. PSPS’s fan websites were abuzz about Rohit, but the management did not reveal their hand.

“It was really frustrating, Rohit had been there for nearly a month, he played well, the fans loved him, but the club refused to give him a contract,” reveals Chitrakar.

Chitrakar with his counterpart agent in Indonesia then decided to play their own hand. It was a massive bluff! They withdrew Rohit out of PSPS and sent him to a rival club, Sriwijaya FC, for training.  PSPS worried that Sriwijaya might snap up the versatile Gorkhali defender finally presented Rohit with a lucrative contract making him by far the highest paid sportsman in the history of Nepali sports.

PSPS Pekanbaru’s first game of the 2013 ISL season is on January 6th against Mitra Kukar FC and Rohit Chand is expected to be in the starting lineup. Not bad for a kid whose football career almost ended at age 14.