A bunch of international coaches have failed in the past
KATHMANDU, July 27: Nepal national men’s football team has nothing to boast when it comes to prestigious international accolades. Nepal’s FIFA rankings keep showing how far it is in the world of football; 166/211.
The current head coach from Sweden, Johan Kalin, is not the first overseas signing for Nepal; neither will he be the last. But he has a task in hand: To make Nepal known on the world football map. Will he succeed with the struggling South Asian underdog having been at the post for about six months now? Will Kalin succeed when a bunch have failed in the past?
The AFC Solidarity Cup in Malaysia in 2016 was the last time Nepal won a major honor, also the first senior international trophy amid heavy criticisms from the governing body All Nepal Football Association (ANFA).
Japan’s Gyotoku Koji, who managed Nepal from 2016 to 2018, is considered as one of the worst coaches because of his low win rate and poor strategy that degraded Nepal’s attack and attractive football beyond repair.
Kalin now looks to improve the team step by step and prefers the performance rather than an overnight improvement for constant good results.
“It has been extremely tough for Nepali football in the last four to five years. I don’t know any nation which has been without the league for so many years. And that affects the coaches, the players and the clubs. It has set us back,’’ the Swedish coach said, “We are not where we want to be in Nepali football right now. I think Nepal should always be able to compete with the Maldives. We need to take a step forward at a time and keep growing.”
Swedish Kalin is a certified coach with UEFA and other football governing bodies. He has managed two Swedish clubs Bergnasets AIK, from 2008-11, and Notvikens IK, from 2011-13.
The players and the coach get the stick for not being able to deliver, but the governing body ANFA has been criticized for its failure to organize the league for more than five years before the 2018-19 season.
The league is considered to be the basic foundation for recognizing the talents for the national team, which no leadership managed to overcome.
“Teams like India and Maldives have progressed a lot, and we need to accept the fact and work hard to improve our performance.’’
Kalin may not be a popular name in the world of football, but he draws inspirations from one of the best coaches the game has ever graced, Manchester City’s boss Pep Guardiola.
The league is one issue, but the ANFA and the National Sports Council (NSC) have even failed to comprehend how the lack of an international stadium has haunted Nepali football for about four years now. The Dasharath Stadium in Tripureshwar suffered damage in the 2015 earthquakes and is currently undergoing reconstruction.
“It’s very important to get to play in the home ground and we want that. We want to play in front of our supporters. They are very vocal,’’ the 40-year-old coach said.
Kalin managed Machhindra Football Club, former A-Division outfit, for a season in 2013-14 leading the underdog to a second place finish.
A Luton Town, English championship side, supporter is well aware about the Nepali match fixing issues, which was a troublesome incident when Nepal lost 9-0 to Jordan in the first leg of the second round of the 2014 AFC World Cup Qualifiers.
“I have been following the Nepali team since 2010. When I was at Machhindra, it was obvious to everyone involved in the fixing. It was not fair-play then. It’s just sad, and it kills the game.’’
The fans have been ever so supportive of the team, but their reaction to a bad result is an example of how Nepali public deals with each other on a day to day basis.
“It’s sad when a player has a bad day because he is accused of being involved in such match-fixing issues. Mistakes happen from every one and it’s a tough situation right now because people are skeptical because of the team’s checkered past. The comments about fixing are tough.”
Despite not being able to deliver a single game in his first four games with the Nepal national team, Kalin has been praised for his balanced performance. Prioritizing both young and experienced players, Kalin helped Nepal draw with Chinese Taipei and Kuwait, but faced defeats against Kuwait and Malaysia in the second game.
Kalin was the primary choice to lead Nepal’s football team due to his attacking mentality and his rigorous style of reading the opposing side. His tactics stood out when Machhindra finished just a point behind the eventual winner Manang Marshyangdi Club in the 2013-14 season.
Nepal is currently training for the 2022 AFC World Cup Qualifiers where it is pitted in Group B against Asian heavyweights like Jordan, Australia, along with Chinese Taipei and Kuwait.
This is just the second time Nepal has been able to get to the second round and having faced two of the four teams already in friendlies, Kalin did not hide the fact that Nepal is an underdog.
“We are clearly the underdogs and that’s not a thing to hide. Their leagues are better than ours and their results in the past years have been good,” Kalin said. “It is not impossible but we need to be on top of our game. We can’t concede silly set-pieces, because that’s what they are good at taking advantage from us.”
“We need to be focused. We drew them (Chinese Taipei and Kuwait) before, why is it not possible to win this time around?’’, he added.
Kalin said that the administrative body needs time, and the good and the bad phase are something that will happen to everyone.
“There are twists and turns in everything. We need to understand who gets what responsibility. It’s just a guessing stuff nowadays, on who needs to be accused,’’ Kalin said, “We need to improve on the pitch and off as well.”
Kalin is the example of how Nepali coaches should manage a team by keeping the players in discipline. His lecture on why the Nepali footballers are often criticized over lack of hard work and discipline issues pinches, considering how true it is.
Players like Bimal Gharti Magar and Nawayug Shrestha have learnt lessons after Magar was dropped from the Malaysia and Taipei friendlies, and Shrestha sat on the bench for Taipei, supporting the philosophy of team first.
We will have to wait and see if Nepal’s head coach Kalin will be able to secure the kind of wins Nepal has been hungrily waiting for decades now.