Utsav Shakya, Kathmandu
The All Nepal Football Association announced the 23-member squad for the SAFF Championship 2023, featuring three new faces, including promising midfielder Laken Limbu.
The 20 year old box-to-box midfielder achieved the feat within two years of his professional football career. He began his professional journey with Three Star Club, a four-time top-tier champion back in 2021. Despite Three Star struggling in bottom half this season, Laken has been rewarded for his lively performance in the midfield.
In the 2021/22 season, Laken signed his first professional contract with Three Star Club and made his debut in Nepal’s top-division league. He didn’t have to wait long to mark his debut in the Martyr’s Memorial ‘A’ Division League.
He entered the field in the very first game against Chyasal Youth Club, which his team won 3-0. Laken replaced Indian forward Lalrammawia in the 80th minute. “It was a nerve-wrecking experience. But at the same time I was happy and excited to play at the highest level in Nepal,” Laken remembered his debut in the premier division.
Born and raised in Singapore, Laken pursued his passion for football by joining the F-17 Football Academy at the age of 12. After three years, he switched to Australian New Zealand Soccer Academy (ANZA Soccer Academy) for another three years. During his time in Singapore, Laken participated in football tournaments in Sweden, Malaysia, and Spain, and also played in several gold cups in Nepal.
Laken always had the dream of returning to his home country and playing football after completing his training at the academies. “Since I’ve started playing football, I’ve always thought of going back to my country and playing after graduating from the academy,” Laken stated.
Laken’s dream came true in 2018 when he came back to Nepal with his family, just before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I returned to Nepal with my family shortly before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, due to the global lockdown, I couldn’t participate in many matches here in Nepal. However, I gained some valuable experience in Nepalese football by participating in several gold cups before joining Three Star. Reflecting on my initial days after returning to Nepal, those experiences were instrumental in shaping my journey.” Laken reminisced about his early days after coming back to Nepal.
Laken expressed his joy at joining such a reputable club and starting his professional career with Three Star. “Being a part of Three Star Club and starting my professional career with such a renowned club made me feel incredible. I was filled with overwhelming emotions at that moment,” Laken expressed his sentiments upon signing with Three Star.
In his first Martyr’s Memorial ‘A’ Division League, he featured in eight out of thirteen matches, starting in five of them. With a total playing time of 405 minutes, Laken contributed one assist. He played the full 90 minutes twice, against Sankata Club and Nepal Police Club.
The ongoing season has been a different story for Laken. He has become a key player for Three Star this season, starting in all of their matches. Laken has dominated the midfield along with impressive numbers to show. He has provided four assists and added three goals to his name, pick of the goal being a 45 yard scorcher against Tribhuwan Army Club. Laken has played 2171 minutes in 25 outings. He attributes his improved performance to the confidence gained from the previous season.
“When it comes to this league, I believe I have been able to showcase my playing style more effectively,” Laken commented when asked about his current performance. “I’ve been executing the coach’s instructions and meeting the team’s requirements. The previous season boosted my confidence, and with that confidence, I feel I have been offering stability in both the attacking and defensive aspects of the game,” he added.
Despite his impressive performances, Laken was not initially selected for the Three Nations Cup hosted by Nepal back in March. However, this exclusion only motivated him to work harder and catch the coach’s attention. Laken remained focused, giving his best on the field, and not being included in the squad didn’t affect his morale.
“Well, not being selected for the Three Nations Cup squad didn’t have a significant impact on me. Instead, it fueled my determination to work even harder and capture the attention of the coach. I understood that I had to give my best on the field, and eventually, my efforts would be recognized. I persisted in working hard and giving my all,” Laken mentioned.
After closely observing his performance following the Three Nations Cup, National Team head coach Vincenzo called up Laken to the preliminary squad for the SAFF Championship 2023 and eventually included him in the final squad.
Laken expressed his honor and pride at earning a spot in the National Team, describing it as a dream come true. “I am deeply honored and filled with pride to have earned a place in the National Team,” Laken expressed his joy upon making the final cut. He went on to say, “Seeing myself in the final squad was a dream come true moment. I am committed to working hard and making my nation proud. My goal is to win as many trophies as possible for my country.”
With his talent and dedication, Laken is hoping to make a significant contribution to the Nepal National Football Team’s success in the upcoming SAFF Championship.
The SAFF Championship 2023 is scheduled to take place from June 21 to July 4 in Bengaluru, India. Nepal is set to kick off the championship with a challenging match against heavyweight Kuwait in the tournament’s inaugural match.
Nepal is placed in Group ‘A’ alongside hosts India, Kuwait, and Pakistan. Similarly, Group ‘B’ consists of Lebanon, Maldives, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Lebanon and Kuwait have been invited as guests for this edition of the SAFF Championship.
Goalkeepers: Kiran Chemjong (RG Punjab FC), Deep Karki (Manang Marsyangdi Club), Bishal Shrestha (Machhindra Football Club)
Defenders: Bimal Panday (Tribhuvan Army Football Club), Sanish Shrestha (APF Football Club), Ananta Tamang (Church Boys United), Devendra Tamang (Machhindra Football Club), Nishant Khadka (Sankata Club), Rohit Chand (Persic Kedri), Simanta Thapa (Jawalakhel Youth Club)
Midfielders: Pujan Uperkoti (Machhindra Football Club), Arik Bista (Church Boys United), Nabin Lama (APF Football Club), Mani Kumar Lama (APF Football Club), Laken Limbu (Three Star Club), Avas Lamichhane (APF Football Club)
Forwards: Ayush Ghalan (Sankata Club), Nawayug Shrestha (Tribhuvan Army Football Club), Dipak Raj Singh Thakuri (Satdobato Youth Club), Anjan Bista (Church Boys United), Manish Dangi (Sankata Club), Aashish Chaudhary (Church Boys United), Bimal Gharti Magar (Machhindra Football Club)