KATHMANDU, Nov 10: Jagajeet Shrestha used to be taken as one of the biggest young prospects in Nepali football, when he made his way to national team in 2011.
Although his national team debut against North Korea during AFC Challenge Cup Qualifier became forgettable due to red card he conceded, Jagajeet was always picked by national head coaches until 2016.
The 12th edition of South Asian Games (SAG) was the last competition for winger and creative midfielder Jagajeet who flew to Australia in 2016.
Due to the migration of a player who had won 33 national team caps under the age of 25, Nepali football supporters were worried that the country was loosing one of the best young talents destined for greatness.
Jagajeet wasn’t in Nepali team that won AFC Solidarity Cup in Malaysia in the same year he left for Australia. The All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) Academy graduate Jagajeet also missed Nepal’s AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers’ first four matches this year.
National team head coach Gyotoku Koji didn’t show any interest toward calling Jagajeet who was playing National Premier League (NPL) Victoria Two (Australian third tier league), with Nunawading City FC.
However, after being overlooked for almost 15 months, Jagajeet finally received a call from the Japanese coach to the preliminary squad, for Nepal’s upcoming encounter against the Philippines.
“I was hopeful of getting a call from the national team. I told myself that I must continue playing and wait for a chance,” said Jagajeet, 24, who is now training with the national team since the past week.
Nepal, placed at the bottom of Group F in Asian Cup qualification, is scheduled to take on the Philippines on November 14 at ANFA Complex in Lalitpur. Currently 26 players are called into the preliminary squad for training.
Despite big hopes, Jagajeet was surprised and sad for not getting a call from the national team in the last 15 months. “I used to miss playing for the national team and was obviously sad for not getting a chance to pull Nepal’s jersey. I guess ANFA or the coaches might have thought that I had left football, which was not surprising as it’s not easy for players leaving for abroad to continue playing,” said Jagajeet, who represented Himalayan Sherpa, Three Star, and Friends Club in domestic football.
Nepali head coach Koji is yet to finalize the squad for the clash against the Azkals, but Jagajeet is confident of earning place in the 23-member national team.
“I am hopeful of cementing a place in the final squad. I am in good condition both physically and mentally, so I think I will get a chance to make comeback to the national team,” Jagajeet said.
Jagajeet played with two clubs -- Sunshine George Cross, and Nunawading City -- in 2017 season that ended in September. He produced five goals and eight assists in the league for those two clubs.
Jagajeet believes he has improved as a player after playing in Australia, at least physically. “I have worked a lot to improve my physical fitness. Apart from the club, I also worked with my private trainer and lost seven kilograms of weight,” said Jagajeet.
“Although the league I play in Australia is of lower level there, its standard is higher than our domestic league. There, I get chance to work with top foreign coaches and the players are also from countries like Japan, South Korea, and Europe. So it is obviously beneficial for me,” added Jagajeet.
But then he knows he has to prove his worth, once again, in the national team. “I know it won’t be easy to play for the national team. I will have to prove my worth and I am ready for that. It is normal for any footballer,” Jagajeet said.
He has also received suggestions from the national team head coach Koji, which he is following. “He has told me that I must focus on defending. I am ready to work according to his suggestion,” said Jagajeet who played as right forward in 4-3-3 formation in Australian clubs.
He is planning to continue his professional career in Australia but says he is ready to come to Nepal whenever he gets call from the national team.
Jagajeet has not dreamed of playing in A-League (Australian first-tier) as he knows that is impossible for any Nepali player at the moment. “It’s almost impossible to play in A-League, because the level is very high. So my focus is in the NPL,” Jagajeet shared his plan.
Nepal is already out from Asian Cup qualification race facing three defeats in four matches. However, Koji’s side wants to conclude the campaign on high note producing positive results in last two matches (against the Philippines and Yemen). And Jagajeet could be a good weapon for the Nepali side to achieve that target.