Kathmandu, March 19, 2017: Nepal ended its 24-year long international trophy drought in football clinching the AFC Solidarity Cup title last year. It was also the first continental trophy of the country. In the same year, Nepal’s football team had bagged a gold medal in South Asian Games (SAG) hot on the heels of its successful title haul of Bangabandhu Gold Cup held in Bangladesh. Looking at the titles won by the country, Nepali football seems to be enjoying it best-ever form in decades.
However, national football team captain Anil Gurung, who was not named in the final list for AFC Cup Qualifiers, begs to differ. Anil says that Nepali football is going through its worst phase ever since he started playing professional football in 2004.
“This is the worst period for football as we don’t have proper domestic football structure, no league and stadium to play,” said Anil, who has won 49 caps for the national team and scored nine international goals.
“People may say footballers are busy in playing games since numerous tournaments are being organized across the country. But these kinds of tournaments are not going to help us,” added the 30-year-old striker of Manang Marsyangdi Club.
“In the absence of league and proper structure, players are forced to play for one club in one tournament and join another club in the next tournament. Such environment neither helps players to play consistently nor contributes in their self development.”
Anil, who has already won three different domestic tournaments including Khaptad, Aaha-Rara and Jhapa Gold Cup with Manang this season, argues that the absence of league has limited the production of players, which has eventually taken toll on the national team as well.
“There are almost the same faces that get into the national team for every international tournament. New talents do not get right platform without league and cannot get a call up for the national team. Besides, there isn’t any tough competition for securing a place in the national team. How far can we go with limited number of players?” he questioned.
Despite winning three consecutive trophies at the international level last year, Anil, one of the most experienced players of the national team, thinks that Nepal has still has a long way to go.
“Yes we clinched three trophies last year but we also need to look at the teams we faced in those competitions. We still have lot of work to do in order to raise our standard,” said Anil. “I have always said that our major target must be winning the SAFF Championship which we have failed so far. First we need to prove ourselves in the sub-continental level and then only we can think beyond.”
He was also doubtful about Nepal’s prospect of playing home match of the AFC Cup Qualifiers in the country. “Home support has always been a great boost for Nepal given the performance in the past. However, the condition of the only international stadium (Dasharath Stadium) is pathetic and is unlikely to get ready before we play any home match,” said Anil. Nepal will take on Yemen in its first home match of the tournament on June 13.
“Given the title-winning form of the team, players are highly motivated and fans are also excited. It would be a great experience to play the qualifiers in home ground. If we are to qualify for the final round of Asian Cup, we need to play home match in the country. But due to the unavailability of Dasharath Stadium, we are likely to miss the chance which can affect our overall qualifying chances,” said the former national team skipper.
Anil, who joined Sahara Academy of Pokhara at the age of 13, says there are some prodigies in the current squad who need to try their luck in the leagues of fellow South Asian nations like India, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
“Leagues in India, Bangladesh and the Maldives are of better standard than in our country. So our talented youth players must try their luck in those leagues. Playing in Europe is a dream for everyone but Nepali players simply don’t have that quality. So the leagues of South Asian countries will be good option for us,” said Anil, who had travelled to England in 2009 and trained with sixth-tier English club Woking FC for four months. He couldn’t stay there due to documentation issue and returned back to Nepal. He later joined Indian side Shillong Lajong and played the I-league (top tire football of India) for two seasons in 2009 and 2010.
Anil has been playing with Manang since he returned from India and says he wants to end his playing career with the same club. However, he said he is yet to plan his retirement from the national team and domestic football.
“I still have not thought about retirement from the national team or domestic football. I want to play for the nation in the coming years as well. But I have planned not to change the club in domestic football. I want to end my career at Manang,” Anil shared his plans.
However, Anil has been getting less playing time under the current head coach Gytoku Koji in national jersey. He played just two out of four matches played by Nepal in the AFC Solidarity Cup last year as substitute. But Anil is not much concerned about the playing time.
“Every coach has his own playing style and philosophy. He chooses the team accordingly. So I am not really sad about not getting playing time the way I wanted. But I give cent percent whenever I am chosen to play,” said the former national team skipper.
By Prabin Bikram Katwal