When Birat Krishna Shrestha – undoubtedly Nepal’s best football coach, as of now – fields his team (Nepal Police Club) against Dordoi Dynamo at the Group B qualifiers of AFC President’s Cup, there could be a lot in his head.
However unlikely, he would be best suggested to keep out the thought of the outcome of Police Club’s past matches against the Kyrgyz League Champions. For that may cloud his strategy. There are other things that he needs to take care of, most notably the absence of a known striker in the team (Jumanu Rai limped out of the match after playing for hardly 15 minutes in the semi-finals of British Gorkha Cup that the police team eventually won).
This perhaps is the weakest of the teams Nepal Police has had to field, that too in an international championship. Along with the Rai’s injury, Bharat Khawas – the mainstay of the team for quite some time – is no longer playing for the same side. With due respect to Ananta Thapa and Rakesh Shrestha, they cannot be considered future of Nepali football, no matter how important they’ve been in the past for both the national side and police team. Although we can say that the ‘available’ players must be in good rhythm after winning the British Gorkha Cup title.
Recently, President of Nepal’s football governing body (ANFA), Ganesh Thapa was heard saying, “A team, to win title, does not need star players. The team should be ready to work hard, and should be disciplined.” He added that Police team was the only one with these qualities.
True, the only club that has not had discipline problems is the police team. We haven’t heard of late night endeavors of its players. Added to that are the facilities of regular training that the police team has been enjoying, which has worked for its advantage for long enough.
But the times have changed, and so has the desire of the footballers. Now they demand a hefty price tag, and not mere salary and security associated with the ‘job’ of playing football. That’s one reason why a number of football players choose other clubs instead of the ‘departmental’ teams. Once a player of Armed Police Force, Santosh Sahukhala left the ‘departmental’ team, to become the most expensive player in Nepal. The players are looking for other clubs to convert their football skills into paychecks. And Manang Marshyangdi, Three Star, Himalayan Sherpa, and also Machhindra pay better than Police Club, which is no more lucrative.
Nepali football is in a transition stage. It’s neither been able to become completely professional, nor has it remained amateur like years ago. And the growth pangs are visible. Perhaps that’s best represented by the past performance of Police Club at the AFC President’s Cup. It represented Nepal as ‘A’ division champions for the first time in 2007, where it was runners-up. Subsequently, it was limited to semi-finalist in 2008, and first round exits in ’09 and ’11 (both at home). Nepal Police Club has scored 21 goals in the AFC President’s Cup, compared to 23 goals conceded so far. In 2011, NPC conceded 5 and scored none.
With three ‘A’ Division League titles and a National League title, it is not something coach Birat Krishna Shrestha would be unaware of. That could be the reason why he shared with media – before leaving for Phnom Penh – the problems he was facing with the team. Saving face? Maybe, but his problems are genuine. And resolving these problems may not be only in his capacity. Police Club will have to take some steps for that. The coach is on contract; maybe other players could be brought in the same way.
Shrestha has had this habit of giving a list of problems, before start of major tournaments, in the past too. But, when the tournament got over, more often than not, he has landed up with silverware for his team and ‘best coach’ award for himself. At least the fans would be hoping for the same, even this time. After all, the last time Police team reached the final, the matches were played outside national frontiers.
This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu post – OFFSIDE – on 5th May, 2012