Martyr’s Memorial A-Division League trophy. | Photo: Republica
KATHMANDU, Sept 29: The Martyr’s Memorial A-Division League is starting after a halt of five years, with departmental team Tribhuvan Army Club taking on the New Road Team (NRT) in the opener on Saturday.
The new leadership of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) under Karma Tshering Sherpa had decided in July to organize the league without a relegation system, a highly-criticized move that is happening for the first time in Nepal’s football history.
The present working committee came to the leadership with a slogan of ‘change’ at the ANFA. Apparently, it has a certain belief that the change that has come in the system of no-relegation will do good to Nepali football. Interestingly, the system is a new one and no country in the world follows that. The working committee, however, claims that it is a positive move that will avoid match fixings.
The Philippines has a league without a relegation system because there are no lower tier leagues in the country. The United States also has no relegation system because the lower tier (B and other lower divisions) leagues in the country are not integrated to the top-tier, which is also known as a closed model.
It was also decided later on Thursday that the ANFA will be organizing two league matches before Nepal national football team takes part in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup scheduled from October 1 to 12. The other match to be played before the cup is between CMG Sankata Club and Saraswati Yuwa Club.
The officials of the clubs were dissatisfied with the participation of Nepal in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup, who maintain that it can affect the performance of the clubs in the league.
When asked about this matter, ANFA General Secretary Indra Man Tuladhar said that the league matches will be deferred until Nepal remains in the cup in Bangladesh.
In a pre-event press conference organized at the ANFA Complex at Satdobato, Lalitpur, the coaches of all the 14 teams talked about their preparations and their expectations from the league.
NRT head coach Maheshwor Mulmi said his team’s preparations were not as expected because of the lack of a good training ground.
“The preparations of the league which we waited for a long time have been good, but we are concerned about our training ground as it was not properly managed. It did not even have a goalpost,” Mulmi said. “We have included the players who had played in both the first and the second tiers of Nepali football. We are expecting to finish in the top six.”
Meanwhile, Army head coach Nabin Neupane said he wanted to create history by winning the title in his first season for the team in the league and that his team’s preparations have been good too.
“I think the preparations of the departmental teams are good, and so is ours. We played a lot of mofussil tournaments and have prepared well after the Damak Gold Cup,” Neupane added. “Our mission is to win the first title for Army and it’s my first season in-charge of Army team in the league, so I want to create history by winning it. We will play attacking football and will present ourselves as the title contender.”
Another departmental team Nepal Police Club has also set the target of winning the league and that all the teams are its rivals including the other departmental teams.
“We have set the expectation of being the league champion. We have good players in the side and have some who are in their peak years. All players are important in the league,” head coach Ananta Raj Thapa said. “We are a professional team and not only the other departmental teams are our rivals, but everyone who plays against us is. We will move forward with team performance.”
Meanwhile, Brigade Boys Club is now considered a surprise package in the league with most of its players being new ones. The team is targeting at least the top eight finish this time.
“We have new players in the side and no old players. So we are confident in getting at least to the top eight finish in the league this time. The boys are doing well and working hard in the training,” head coach Ujjwal Shrestha said. “I am very excited with the league as I have been away from football for a long time. I had won many titles in my playing career, and I want to continue that feat as a coach too.”
Chyasal Youth Club appointed former national team head coach Raju Kaji Shakya as its coach. Although the team is not a favorite for the title, Shakya expected his team to fully take the challenge.
“The training has been good, but we had focused on playing tournaments more than the training. We were provided with a good ground to practice as well. The fitness level of the players is still low, and we are going to confirm the foreign players within few days,” Shakya added. “Winning the title is a big challenge for us, but our target is to do just that.”
One of the title contenders in the tournament is Laxmi Hyundai Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) and it has appointed Nigerian coach Fuja Tope as its head coach.
“We are aiming to win the title and we will do whatever we are supposed to do to win it. We had held two-week-long preparations ahead of the league, and we are still trying to make the team tick. We are still working on that part,” Tope added, “There’s no pressure because we have good and talented players in the team. The players are lacking match fitness as they have not played in competitive games.”
The other contender is Ruslan Three Star Club (TSC) and its head coach Megh Raj KC said that the long halt of the league has affected the Nepali football. However, as Three Star stayed out of football for almost a year, they had enough time to prepare for the league, he added.
“Three Star stayed out of football because of the mistake from ANFA. We had the league in mind from a long time and we trained 10 months or so earlier for it,” KC explained. “The pressure is always there for a coach of Three Star’s stature. The important thing is to withstand the pressure and maintain your balance in football. We are aiming to win the title.”
The other departmental team Armed Police Force (APF) Club’s head coach Rajendra Tamang said that he is trying to shape the club differently with his tactics.
“We had one and a half month for the preparations for the league, and I am trying to present a different way of playing football with the team. We played three to four friendlies to understand their tactics which I studied and tried to work out our strategies,” Tamang explained. “We have Aditya Chaudhary in the team, but he is not training with us since he will be with the national team. Our aim is to at least finish third in the league.”