27 September 2015

Youth football gaining momentum

I offer my apologies in advance to anyone expecting this blog post to offer jubilation over the success of Nepal’s Under 19 and Under 16 in the SAFF U19 Championship and AFC U16 Championship qualifiers. If you are looking for those types of pieces I would recommend going over to the official ANFA website or GoalNepal to get your fill. A short commentary on Nepal’s youth national teams’ achievements can be found at the bottom of this article.

There is another element of youth football that I would rather focus on and that Nepali football fans should get excited about. It is the emergence of youth football schools and academies across Nepal. In fairness, it is perhaps happening at a pace slower than the ideal, but for a country that was able to wait seven years for a constitution and used to long queues at government offices to petrol pumps, a bit of patience for sports development should be manageable.
Lalitpur Sports Training Center (Pic: LSTC Facebook Page)

Nepal had a futsal revolution and it may well be that it is on the verge of a youth football insurgency. A combination of factors including the proliferation of futsal halls, a growing urban middle class looking for activities for their children and the glamour of football brought on by the Premier League, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have given rise to youth football training centers across Kathmandu Valley and the country.

While Sahara Club, SWSC, MYA and Futsal Arena in Thamel, amongst a few others, were the pioneers on this front, at a recently held youth football workshop that I conducted, a new breed of football schools/academies were in attendance.

They included the hosts of the event, Lalitpur Sports Training Center, which is currently conducting weekend sessions for kids 8 to 14 at the Pulchowk Engineering Campus and hopes to take football training to every corner of Lalitpur district.

There was a group of soccer moms that have started the Kathmandu Kickers training program in Mandikhatar, initially for their own kids, but since open to everyone that meets several criteria including active involvement in the program by parents of the trainees.

Kathmandu Kickers organizers (Pic: KK Facebook Page)
A representative from RC32 Football Academy, a program initiated by national team player Rohit Chand and his brother Rabindra for kids in the Mid-Western city of Surkhet – hardly known for its football prowess, was also there.

The diversity of these training programs, from their geography to proprietors, is a reason for optimism. Youth football programs, once limited to the ANFA Academy, are now much more accessible and also lure talented professionals and volunteers to Nepali football.

With the dearth of structured youth football in the country, producing tangible results for soccer schools/academies is not so difficult. For example, a recent Under-12 national team squad that travelled to Korea Republic featured two players from Oshonik Club of Nepalgunj, a team that only conducts training on weekends. Presuming ANFA selectors are fair in their recruitment, we should easily see players from more of these types of training programs on the youth national team rolls in the near future.

Nepal’s youth national team success

Unfortunately, I cannot get excited about the results produced by Nepal’s youth national teams. We’ve been here before on numerous occasions in the past – Nepal’s juniors apparently producing great results only to later be fined by the AFC for fielding overage players. Until Nepal’s youth national teams are devoid players that have played league football for multiple years before being selected to the junior squads and youth success translates into the senior team winning matches, it is difficult to take Nepal’s youth level results seriously.

My opinion is shared by quite a few Nepali football insiders, but in a country that lacks many legitimate heroes and is desperate for positive news, most of these same people, as would transpire amongst the Roman masses when the Gladiator Games were being held at the Colosseum,  seem to get swept up in the euphoria of the moment. In private they voice their concerns about the legitimacy of the youth teams’ results, though publicly they celebrate the success on Facebook and other outlets. It makes straight shooters like myself come across as a negative minority. So be it.