The number of Nepal’s international footballers leaving for greener pastures, better opportunities and a secure financial future abroad is on the rise. Those who have already left were either in their prime or midway through their career. Do not be surprised if more players follow suit.
Whether or not we agree, the steady flow of players leaving the country is unfortunate, troubling and a cause for concern for Nepal football. The majority of players who have migrated to Australia, the United States of America, European countries or elsewhere no longer play full-time competitive football.
Speaking of professional or semi-professional leagues in the aforementioned countries,it is obvious that the standard is very high and extremely competitive. Getting into the professional league for any player is very challenging and an uphill battle.
Leave alone the first-tier league; making it into the second-tier and further down is a tall order, especially for footballers from South Asia. They must go through a rigorous process of showcasing their ability and potential in front of scouts, agents and representatives of football clubs.
As a matter of fact, even getting tryouts and open trials is not easy. Only if players are young and exceptionally talented, they stand an outside chance of getting it. Nepali internationals who left the country for new destinations of their choice more than a decade ago had no option but to end their careers prematurely for a secure future.
Most likely, the latest wave of internationals who left the country will end up doing the same. I would be taken aback if they change their minds and decide to return back to Nepal. As we have seen, for the most part, former Nepali internationals abroad are limited to playing competitions organized by the Nepali diaspora community.
At a time when national teams in various age groups are underperforming and struggling like never before in international tournaments, the departure of well-seasoned and upcoming players is a big blow. It does not bode well for Nepal football.It is a clear reflection of deep-rooted problems plaguing Nepal football. That said, there is no reason to panic in the strictest sense because there is no dearth of talent in the country.
In fact, there are emerging players aplenty waiting in the wings who are knocking on the doors of national selectors and ready to step into their shoes. But if the current football landscape remains unchanged, the lack of career development fear, financial insecurity and uncertain future will most likely drive more players to leave the country.
In light of recent events: uncertainty over the National Super League, former Kuwaiti Head Coach of the national team Abdullah Al Mutairi’s feud with a section of senior players and ANFA President Pankaj B Nembang(then senior Vice-President) and a sharply divided ANFA( prior to the recent election) added fuel to the fire.
Nepal football's biggest issue today is the absence of a conducive environment and professional league system, coupled with dynamic leadership and sound and effective governance. I have no hesitation in saying that this is a direct result of organizational failure on the part of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA).
Everyone agrees that as caretakers(ANFA) of the game, it is solely responsible for the professional development of football in the country. However, they have been a big letdown and decades of disappointment. Far too little has been done to create a positive, healthy and productive environment for players who are pursuing their professional careers.
Weak leadership,bad governance, factionalism, corruption, unaccountability, corrupt administrative practices, and petty politics in ANFA have far back football development. There is no end in sight to these systemic problems yet.
Furthermore, football Clubs in the country lack a strong culture and professional development. They face financial challenges and lack infrastructures, necessary tools and resources.
As a result, their contribution to the systematic growth and development of professional football in the country is negligible. As things stand, I don’t see how players can advance and build a sustainable career in the present environment. As realization dawns on them that they have no future playing football in Nepal,they are forced into making the most difficult decision to move abroad before it is too late for their future career prospects.
It is very clear that the feeling of fear and uncertainty about the future is driving them abroad. We will have to wait and see the approach and direction the newly elected ANFA President Pankaj B Nembang’s administration takes to address the issue.
They must seriously take stock of the situation and put forth an honest effort to create an optimistic environment in order to stem the flow of players leaving the country. Only a meaningful concerted and collaborative effort between ANFA, football clubs and stakeholders can make a significant difference and help slowly turn things around.
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA