Subas Humagain, Kathmandu
Upon returning as the runners-up of the SAFF Championship 2021 in November, the Head Coach of the Nepal National Football Team, Abdullah Almutairi said that the national team’s plan now is to finish third in the Asian Cup qualifiers. He also presented a detailed plan for national team training at his contract renewal announcement three months ago.
Almutairi said that if Nepal finished third in the qualifiers to be held in June 2022, it would put Nepal in comfortable situation for the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers. Accordingly, plans were made for the national team keeping in mind the schedule of club football till next September. But on Wednesday, Nepal Sports and Event Management Pvt. Ltd, the organizer of the Nepal Super League (NSL) – a corporate backed football tournament featuring the national players – announced the date for second edition of NSL. The date clashes with National team’s plan ahead of the qualifiers.
Despite the announcement, it has been revealed that ANFA has not yet set an official date for this competition. ANFA General Secretary Indraman Tuladhar said that there has not been any official decision in this regard so far. “We have not received any official information. We have not even made an official decision to provide this date. I am unaware on what basis they announced the date,” GS Tuladhar said.
NSL CEO Sudip Sharma insists that the date has been fixed after consulting ANFA. “We asked ANFA to provide this date. We fixed the date after consultation with ANFA. We are not in favor of affecting the plan of the national team. The national team is always in priority, “Sharma said. He also said that like the last edition, there was no official circular from ANFA about the date of NSL.
Speaking at a press conference last November, coach Almutairi said that the goal was to improve the FIFA rankings by playing a friendly matches game before Nepal competes in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. According to the same plan, Nepal is playing a friendly match against African nation Mauritius this weekend. Almutairi last week said that he had planned friendly match with a physically strong Mauritius team as he had to compete with a stronger nations in the Asian Cup qualifiers.
According to the plan submitted by Almutairi in November 2021, he would train for 19 days in the second week of January and play two friendly matches in Kathmandu on FIFA Day. Nepal is scheduled to play against Mauritius accordingly. After that, Almutairi’s plan is to play two friendly games in Kathmandu along with the 19-day camp from the second week of March. As there is a schedule for FIFA’s international game here too, Nepal will play with the national team.
Then from the second week of April, Nepal will prepare for the Asian Cup qualifiers. From May 30 to June 14, each national team will play four international matches under FIFA Day. Nepal will play the Asian Cup qualifiers at the same time. According to the current schedule, Nepal will play the Asian Cup qualifiers on June 8, 11 and 14. The venue of the qualifiers and the group stage draw will be made done in the third week of February.
Coach Almutairi is planning to prepare for the Asian Cup qualifiers by organizing a camp from May 11 for 35 days. He has plans to select 28-30 players for the final stage from a 36-member camp in April. He had requested ANFA last November to hold the second phase of the camp outside Nepal.
However, the schedule made public by NSL on Wednesday seems to have a direct impact on the training of the national team. Now ANFA has option to not let the national team players participate in the NSL or to postpone the NSL itself. NSL has stated that 10 teams will compete from April 9 to May 21, 2022. But looking at coach Almutairi’s plan, it seems to have a direct impact on the two-phase training.
In addition, the overall organization of NSL this time will be tougher than the previous edition. When the last edition was held, most of the players were without clubs. It was easy for the players to participate in the auction as they did not have any binding contract with any club. Although there were some problems with the players of the departmental teams, ANFA coordinated with respective teams. But this time the A division clubs have already signed the players. As a player can only sign one professional contract at a time, NSL clubs or the organizer itself will need to talk to ANFA or clubs in this regard.
On the other hand, there is a possibility of other tournaments being held during the NSL. Last season, ANFA put a hold on other tournaments outside the valley citing COVID-19. But now it is unlikely to happen. A division clubs are not willing to let their players play NSL easily with their participation in other tournaments put on hold.
In the first edition itself, the existence of NSL was questioned but the competition was somehow completed. It seems that the league will have to face more problems now as there was weakness in the beginning due to lack of preparation before the second edition. The league that aimed to bring corporate house and football together can be considered successful in that regard. But the lack of coordination with clubs, players and ANFA in the football structure has raised doubts about the continuity of the league.