The national football team’s struggle in international tournaments continues unabated much to the frustration, chagrin of fans across the country. The team’s debacle at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea was no surprise and is a sad reflection on the decline of football in Nepal. Most recently, Philippines added more misery on Nepal by comprehensibly winning the exhibition match 3-0 played in Qatar. Legion of fans are clearly sick and tired of the insipid showing, however, they have taken the setbacks sportingly and rallying around the team.
The national team has been under-performing in every major international tournament, one after another, for a considerable period of time. Everyone is aware that Nepali football has been stuck in mediocrity for long enough. Honestly speaking, I don’t see them making a comeback sometime in the near future, not under the current situation, with so much uncertainties and chaos surrounding Nepali football. At present, the national squad can best be summed up as mediocre and far from impressive. In other words, we have been reduced to an average football nation. I don’t mean to be harsh on players, but it is what it is. I understand it is entirely not fair to scapegoat players for the sub-par results. We should not forget that there are other contributing factors to our losing streak.
ANFA’s maladministration and failure to develop football at all levels, infighting among ANFA members, awfully inadequate infrastructure facilities and playing fields, structurally weak domestic football, lack of professional football, absence of football and club culture, centralization of football activities, very limited number of qualified coaches, faulty team selection and ineffective role of the coaching staff are the underlying problems of Nepali football.
In addition, ANFA’s casual approach to international tournaments when it comes to preparing the team tops the list. There has been either no or very little attention paid to, be it nutritional or psychological or physical aspects. The football body’s reluctance to learn from past mistakes has severely impacted the overall performance of the team, thus hurting and putting undue pressure on players.
Adding salt to injury, we have a foreign coach in Jack Stefanowski who works hand in glove with the football body. He seems more intent in protecting his job rather than duly performing his duties. As head coach, when he should have been forcefully, professionally addressing issues like, team’s selection, players’ needs, and training and preparation of the team for international tournaments, he has opted to remain passive and tight-lipped. In short, Mr.Stefanowski’s action suggests, he is strictly following ANFA’s instructions, and doing nothing of his own. What can we expect from an individual who is unable to function independently as possible. Admittedly, he is nowhere even close to foreign coaches we had before him in terms of character, demeanor, class, integrity and quality. What is so absurd, hilarious about Mr. Stefanowski is, he always refrains from making constructive comments that are critical of players or ANFA, and he even does not point out the real reasons attributing to the string of poor results. Instead like a programmed robot, all he says,” I am happy with the team’s performance,” “We are making progress” and “We lost to a better team”. It is very clear that he does not want to risk his job by irking, disappointing either ANFA or players.
To be fair it is very challenging for a foreign coach to be in charge of a team like ours given the plight of Nepali football. That being said, coaches are expected to conform to ethical standards and should not be driven by self-interest. No matter how big the challenge is, they have to prove themselves with integrity and at the same time continually challenge themselves to the highest level. It is very important to be yourself and not allowing others to dictate who you should be or what you should be doing. Otherwise, it does far more harm to them than good, professionally. I tried to get Mr. Stefanowski’s point of view on Nepali football, following completion of his initial one-year contract, but he never responded much to my shock.
So far the Polish-born-American has achieved nothing significant on the pitch to boast of. He squandered a glorious opportunity to instill hope as the new coach of Team Nepal in the SAFF Championship held in Kathmandu last year. Since then the team has gone winless. In modern day football, with expectations high, coaches are constantly under the radar, and they have a decisive role to play when it comes to rebuilding the team in the right way. Mr. Stefanowski seems more than happy to live with ANFA’s bureaucracy rather than have his and team needs meet and help players feel secure.
Keeping in mind the pathetic, depressing state of Nepal football, things look increasingly bleak. At this moment, the situation remains very fluid, and the precarious situation that Nepali football now finds itself in does not bode well. It is hard to say whether or not FIFA throws President of ANFA Ganesh Thapa under the bus. Only time will tell. With or without Mr. Thapa, evidently, football across the country continues on with business as usual. After all, what has he really done to change the landscape of Nepali football? Nothing much.
We have to see the big picture. The state of football from Mechi to Mahakhali is worse than you thought/think despite the massive popularity of the sport. Even in places like Jhapa, Biratnagar, Dharan, and Pokhara where football is very popular, little has changed for the good in terms of infrastructure and development in the last two decades. The heavily politicized, cash-strapped District Football Associations does not have the resources, organizational and promotional abilities to carry out its activities. Hats off to the football fraternity, private groups and individuals (sans support from ANFA) for their invaluable contribution to football. It is largely because of their undaunted commitment and spirit that there are football activities in every nook and corner of the country, all these years.
The bottom line is: ANFA needs a dynamic, visionary, credible and honest leader, coupled with a professional team who is able to guide football into a new era of hope. Otherwise, the uncertainty, confusion in Nepali football will linger.
I have to conclude by saying that Nepali football stands at a very critical juncture, and laces an uncertain future.