KATHMANDU, Dec 14: In modern football, a player’s ability of playing in numerous positions is regarded as his biggest asset.
Whenever a club searches for new players for its team, the coaching staff prefers a versatile player who can play in different positions.
Even the national coaches these days keep versatile players on priority while forming the national team.
Nabin Neupane is one of the few names in the Nepali football history to establish himself as a versatile player playing in various positions during his career.
Neupane, who started his playing career at an early age of 16 with Naxal Yuva Mandal (NYM) in nation’s first tier football (A Division League), played as forward, winger and defender with clubs such as Manang Marsyangdi, New Road Team (NRT) and Himalayan Sherpa.
Due to his blistering pace and ability of producing pi-point crosses, the coaches in domestic clubs and national team tried him as right back, left/right winger and striker as well.
However, despite being a star in domestic football, Neupane earned just 17 national team call-ups.
It is often said that Neupane’s not being a one-position player was the major reason behind his relatively fewer national team appearances.
Neupane, currently the head coach of Tribhuvan Army Club (TAC), partially agrees to this fact.
“That could be one reason, but then I don’t have regret playing in numerous positions rather than establishing myself as a one-position player. That experience is now helping me in my coaching career,” said 37-year old Neupane.
“That experience has made it easy for me to handle different position players at club,” added Neupane who was among the first 16 Nepali coaches to earn AFC ‘A’ coaching license last year.
Neupane’s landing on the coaching job was not planned as his journey was guided by a yearlong controversial ban on his playing career slapped by All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) in 2014. The Nepali football governing body slapped a ban on Neupane for pushing referee Sudish Pandey during the A Division match between his team MMC and Three Star.
The ANFA’s decision had raised many questions then, but it was a turning point in Neupane’s life. Since he was banned to play, MMC gave him coaching role when the team was travelling to Mongolia to take part in the AFC President Cup Qualifiers.
“Club’s regular head coach Hari Om Shrestha had AFC ‘C’ license only but the club was supposed to have coach with ‘B’ license so I was given an opportunity as I had that coaching certificate,” remembered Neupane.
It was a big test for Neupane as he was in the role of coach for the first time and it was a top level international competition.
However, Neupane successfully did his job as MMC was qualified for the final rounds of the President Cup topping the qualification group that consisted Mongolian Champion Erchim and Cambodian side Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng.
“That was a big decision from club to have trust on me as a coach. I think I passed my first test as a coach,” says Neupane who won four domestic leagues with MMC.
Neupane then returned to his usual playing role after serving the yearlong ban and played 2015 league with MMC. But since then the league has been stalled, and so has his playing career. Neupane hasn’t officially announced to hang his boots from professional football playing career but he hasn’t played since the last league.
“I don’t want to come with an official statement because people know that I am already in a coaching career, which means I won’t be in the player’s role anymore,” said Neupane who took retirement from national team in 2008.
LEAGUE: ONLY PLACE TO TEST COACHING SKILLS
Since the country hasn’t seen top-tier football competition for past several years, the local tournaments organized outside Kathmandu valley have been saving Nepali football from being collapsed. Although All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) had decided to host A Division League from November 30, it has been postponed once again.
Neupane is testing his coaching skills in these domestic tournaments and has already guided his team TAC to three titles this year. Mechi Netralaya Kakarbhitta Gold Cup, Satakshi Gold Cup and Bishal Memorial Gold Cup are the titles Neupane won with TAC.
Las year as well, Neupane had led TAC to several domestic trophies but he thinks league football is the only competition where he will go through real test.
“Just like a player needs to play top tier competition for his development, a coach also needs similar platform in order to test his coaching skill,” said Neupane. “In the absence of league, I haven’t gone through real test. So it’s very hard to know my actual coaching level.”
Neupane believes lack of enough top level coaches in domestic football is one of the major reasons behind the struggle of Nepali football at an international stage.
“If the players get opportunity to train under top level coaches in clubs, that will eventually help national team,” added Neupane. “But here, we don’t have enough top level coaches, and the available small numbers of them also don’t get enough chance to test their skills due to absence of league.”
LACK OF PLAYERS
When TAC’s senior side was in Jhapa to play Satakshi Gold Cup last month, its reserve team was busy in Kathmandu for Chandragiri Gold Cup.
“We have the squad of 25-plus senior players and many others coming from youth ranks as well. But we still want to reinforce the team for the upcoming league. But it’s very hard to find the players of our level because there is no top tier competition in the country where we can scout them,” Neupane expressed his frustration.
However, the TAC head coach thinks that his team is luckier than rest of the clubs in Nepal on this matter. “We are departmental side so it is comparatively easier for us to make the team because most of the players (here) are members of the force. Otherwise it’s harder for other clubs to hold the players and a team in the country where you don’t have league,” said Neupane.
He gives credit to the players more than anyone for the success that the Nepali football achieved last year by winning AFC Solidarity Cup, South Asian Games and Bangabandhu Gold Cup. “Whatever achievements the Nepali football accomplished in 2016, was solely due to the hard work of the players.
If ANFA is serious about the country’s football development, then it should make a proper calendar and conduct its activities, otherwise it will not take long for the collapse of Nepali football,” Neupane concluded.