Brain Drain in Nepalese football - the dark story behind the uncertainty of NSL

January 1st 2019, ANFA & Nepal Sports & Event Management signed a deal for two events reaching an agreement to organize the franchise-based Nepal Super League and School League. As per the agreement NSEM was responsible for the sponsors, names of the participating teams and preparations for the NSL, while ANFA was responsible of technical aspects of the tournaments. It was the former ANFA president Karma Tshering Sherpa & NSEM president Nirvana Chaudhary signed the MoU with the main motive for the development of youth through sports & Nepalese football.

India have ISL owned by Nita Ambani the billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s wife, organized by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Their commercial partners FSDL (Football sports Development Limited) run as a subsidiary to Reliance. Similar here in Nepal too Nepal Sports & Event Management (NSEM) came forward to initiate the franchise football leagues in Nepal. NSEM is owned by a Nepalese billionaire Binod Chaudhary’s son Nirvana Chaudhary. Nirvana’s wife Ashrayata Karki Chaudhary is the Chairman of Nepal Super League.

Regarding the School League, the main objective of the project was to develop football by strengthening grassroots and youth. They had a target of organizing such leagues in 11 cities involving 300 schools and the event will run for about 10 months starting in May 2019.

The rise and fall of NSL

The Nepal Super League was then introduced as the Nepal’s first professional franchise based football league organized by Nepal Sports and Events Management (NSEM) in technical support with ANFA. A total of seven provincial teams provinces participated in the first season of the tournament which was held at Dasharath Stadium from 24 April to 15 May 2021 . It was a great challenge for the organizers to make it success during the harsh COVID 19 situation. Even in the wave of COVID19 the tournament was a success gaining popularity among the Nepalese football fans regardless the zero attendance in the stadium. Kathmandu Rayzers was awarded with the first season title with NRs.35 Lakhs as a prize money.

After 6 months of NSL the most awaited Martyr’s memorial A Division League was successfully organized from 19 November 2021- 26 February 2022. ANFA then provided the date of April 9- May 21 2022 for the second season of NSL. This time the organizer increased the prize money by double the amount from the previous edition i.e. NRs.75 Lakhs. NSEM also introduced 3 new franchise teams increasing the participants to 10. Three new teams were; Jhapa FC, Birgunj United FC and Sporting Club de Ilam. The auctions for the second season was scheduled for March 4 in Kathmandu which was later shifted to 19th March due to technical reasons. It was a month after the finish of A division league NSL had conducted their auction. Almost 251 players from A Division league involved in the auctions where these players were categorized under three categories as per their base price: A category ( NRs.1.5 Lakhs) B category ( NRs.1 Lakhs) & C category ( NRs.50 thousands ).

The organizers & participating teams then sat down a meeting & announced that they were unable to participate in the competition due to conflicts with A division clubs and a delay in forming a committee to resolve the issue. With this NSEM urged ANFA automatically to extend the then agreement and that the competition be held during the months of September and October, with appropriate preparatory time to avoid competing with other contests.

On 14 June 2022, All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) granted permission to hold the second edition of the Nepal Super League (NSL) from Bhadra 25, 2079 to Karthik 5, 2079 (September 10, 2022 to October 22, 2022) as per the request. The commencement date for the second edition of the NSL was previously set for April 8.

Players & Head coach conflicts

It was on April when Nepal were preparing for the second round of AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. The head coach Abdullah Almutairi had called up the players for the closed camps. On 2022 April 27 evening: A news came up on a media called khelpati entitled “10 senior players revolted against the head coach Abdullah Almutairi.”

It’d been said that 10 senior players revolted against the head coach Abdullah Almutairi expressing dissatisfaction with the working style of the coach. The players left the closed training saying that they were treated very conservatively. Initially, Rohit Chand, a senior player of the national team, expressed dissatisfaction over the poor management of the players during the training. He had complained to the trainer saying that there was no arrangement for good living and food during the training. Along with the player's complaint, ANFA had kept the players in a hotel in Tripureshwor. Even the players started regular training at Dasharath Stadium after, the distance between the senior players and the coach increased after the senior player raised his voice about his facilities. Rohit Chand, who seemed dissatisfied with the coach, had initially taken leave from the camp. Following Rohit other senior players also left the hotel & even the closed camp saying that the coach behaved irresponsibly while Chand was on leave. Almutairi was criticized for using the player for his own vested interests.

The next day on April 28: the very 10 senior players organized press conference making a serious accusation against their head coach Abdullah Almutairi. According to them, the head coach imposed dictatorship in the camp and publicly said that the coach put mental pressure on them.

On the statement the players said they won’t play under Abdullah Almutairi as their coach. But they were not able to bear his misbehavior, so as a result, they left the camp. These players then asked All Nepal Player’s Association’s president Bikram Lama (who was just elected 4 days ago) & ANFA to form a committee to investigate the case to find out who was the real culprit. The ANFA then listened the player’s voice & formed a committee. Then, it was Al Mutairi’s turn to resort to the press and tell his side of the story. On May 1st he released a letter to the football governing body, ANFA, saying he forgave the players and asked ANFA also not to take action against them.

Meanwhile on 30th April ‘Abdullah Almutairi called 17 new players even from B & C division to continue the closed camp as the replacement of those 10 senior players for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in Kuwait. The players’ coach dispute was still on the investigation where Nepal participated in the competition & couldn’t do better. Abdullah who was fainted against his own nation Kuwait was allowed 3 months leave from ANFA for recovery.  

On 30th of May 2022: The task force set up to investigate the coach player dispute recommended the removal of AA from the head coach of Nepal National Football Coach in coordination with Qatar FA. But it was the election fever & ANFA had no time to work on that.

The Rise of Pankaj Bikram Nembang as ANFA president:

On 2022 June 21 Pankaj Bikram Nembang the ex-vice president won the ANFA Presidential Election defeating his opponent Karma Tsering Sherpa in the 21st ANFA Ordinary Congress 2022 at Hotel Park Village Resort in Kathmandu. Nembang secured 45 votes to Sherpa’s 39 to secure the next four year term. It’s was said that the players’ coach conflict & unsuccessful management of AA was the main reason behind the loss of Karma. The very day at mid night following the win of Pankaj Nembng Coach, on his Instagram story coach AA wrote a good bye note which he soon deleted. It was a challenge for the new ANFA president to implement the suggestions from Player coach dispute advisory committee sacking AA since he was a technical aid from the Qatar FA. Meanwhile a friendly against Bangladesh was scheduled to be played at home ground. AA who was in leave at Qatar send the reply letter to the players’ coach investigation along with the player’s shortlists for the friendly that surprisingly includes some of the players who had accused him earlier.

Regardless the disputes on the first meeting of July 8 2022, ANFA sat down with Nepal Super League organizers Nepal Sports and Events Management Pvt Ltd to find a new agreement to conduct the franchise league. All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) decided to cancel the agreement with Nepal Super League and its organizers; Nepal Sports and Events Management Pvt Ltd. Former ANFA committee under Karma Tsering Sherpa had granted NSEM new dates to organize the second edition from September 10 to October 11. But with this cancellation from the newly elected committee, the existence of the franchise league came into question yet again. The meeting decided to recommend the cancellation of the agreement with the conclusion that there were errors in some points of the agreement with NSL.

The agreement paper signed and approved by former ANFA president Karma Tsering Sherpa had specified its existence until four years from the day it was signed but the agreement date was not specified in the agreement papers. The franchises had also agreed on helping to develop the game in their respective provinces. But the work had not been done according to the agreement, hence the ANFA cancelled the agreement. ANFA then assured to fix the new dates after that after meeting with the franchises and finding an agreement.

ANFA meeting held on 11th of August at ANFA complex decided to rest Abdullah and appoint US based Nepalese coach Pradeep Humagain as the acting head coach for a single match against Bangladesh. Humagain recalled all those senior players back to the team. Nepal won the match against Bangladesh by 3-1 where Anjan Bista scored a hattrick Humagain's coaching. The very meeting ANFA confirmed the odd date for Nepal Super League as 9th of October. However, ANFA said they will only allow NSEM, the main organizers of NSL, to host the event if they follow ANFA's process & statutes.

Still the future of Nepal Super League became uncertain. Though the ANFA allocated the date for the event but NSL teams started putting forward some questions to the main organizers, Nepal Sports & event management. Club stated that they can’t invest huge money if the league is played for few years. It should be long term plan and must have league status. ANFA who scrapped the old contract made with erstwhile leadership formed a new committee for the new contract. Meanwhile the NSL club started saying that they can’t forward unless the contract with ANFA is done. They start demanding enough time for logistics, international players transfer and training purpose. On the other hand some A Division league still protesting against the league. ANFA still not sure how to deal with those clubs as they strongly demand the league to be scrapped. 

In the contrary of almost 5 months on uncertainty of NSL, On 11th August 2022, the new leadership at ANFA failed to expand the span of A Division league. The duration of the league was announce just for three months giving the dates from December 23, 2022 till March 18 2023.

On 11th September 2022, AA officially resigned from the head coach via an email resignation letter.

18th of October 2022 again ANFA committee revised the league format to double league with a meeting between the 13 club representatives & ANFA officials to start the league from Poush 26 lasting 6 months to Jestha 20.

A year without no football

It was on last year’s Falgun when Nepal had their domestic league. NSL which was scheduled to happen from the last years April but still uncertain. And following this, recently on 2nd of December All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) confirmed that the Martyr's Memorial 'A' Division League will not be held on the scheduled date i.e. 26th of Poush. According to the agreement reached between 14 clubs of the top division and ANFA on 21st of Kartik, it was confirmed that the league will not be held on the scheduled date due to the fact that ANFA did not give the money to the clubs.

Players leaving abroad for local tournaments

With all these immaturity & insincerity from the governing body ANFA Nepal’s football is almost to end if they still failed to resolve the problems. Short league format, Uncertainties surrounding lucrative NSL tournament & recent controversy surrounding Nepal head coach and players recently almost 20+ young and promising talents have leaved Nepal to play minor league football in Australia for job security. These sorts of brain drain in football have dashed the hopes of those who want to see Nepal reach new heights in football.  Additionally, they are not playing for a big club abroad like Rohit Chand or Kiran Chemjong; instead, they are there to compete in minor leagues. On the other hand, even the local league in Australia is more competitive than in Nepal they get to play more games. There are some people who say they will come back to play in the national team later.

Questions to ANFA & Nepal Government

Here’s a question for them to answer-Which players have come back to play in Nepal from Australia? (Except Jagjeet Shrestha)?? First of all, these players won’t be included not in the Nepal National football team. They were even satisfied with NRs.15,000 salary per month given by ANFA. There were leagues and even NSL was happening before, they were contracted for a slightly bigger amount. To play in the native soil, live in your own country close to your family, which player doesn't want that? Well, these players who went to Australia were also included in the national team. Let's assume that the club gave them the leave too. Now the question is, who will bear the cost of the ticket?? Is Anfa Ready to pay?? Today, when all the talented players of the country are going abroad, the overall development of Nepal's sports and football at the international level has been criticized by others. Still some players are still preparing to fly. Some of them are handing over their passports to Australian based football club.

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