By Subas Humagain, Kathmandu
Newly appointed Nepal National Football Team Head Coach Abdullah Almutairi was the talk of the town when he announced the squad for World Cup Qualifiers this week. Almutairi made 13 changes from the previous team which had 6 new faces.
In the press conference on Thursday, Almutairi expressed his dissatisfaction over the complaints flooded in social media about the omission of some names. He explained why some names were not included in the squad.
Having watched the players closely in the Nepal Super League, Almutairi chose to include in form young players in a bid to strengthen the squad for the future. He also explained the target is to create a strong team for the SAFF Championship, which is scheduled to be held in Bangladesh in September.
This is not the first time Nepal is undergoing a rebuild of the senior national team. Nearly six years back, Belgian coach Patrick Aussems’s effort led Nepal to a golden period of success. Aussems himself was not present to enjoy the fruition of the hard work as his plans were not put in effect by the FA.
Aussems was appointed as head coach at the end of August and watched few league matches before announcing the squad. His appointment followed the suspension of the then national team skipper Sagar Thapa over match-fixing charges. Having seen the Under-19 team lift SAFF Championship, Aussems thought of rebuilding the team with young blood as they were the future.
Not only players, but Aussems also opted to chose the coaches of youth teams in his backroom. U-19 Coach Balgopal Maharjan, U-16 coach Upendra Man Singh and U-14 coach Hari Khadka were in the coaching team. Aussems worked with these coaches in trying to use the same tactics in all age groups, which will help Senior Team in the future.
Aussems also tried to send some players for foreign training along with National team camps, but nothing came out of paper. He couldn’t keep up a good working relationship with the hierarchy of the FA. After working with the team for a month, Nepal was unlucky to crash out of the group stages in SAFF Championship.
Aussems had six months contract with ANFA to look over the team for SAFF Championship and the 12th South Asian Games. Despite getting the message that his wife was seriously ill during the SAFF Championship, he opted to stay with the team. After the SAFF journey ended prematurely for the team, he asked to go back home after discussion with ANFA.
Aussems gave his plans to his coaching team but the ANFA chose to give the responsibility to Maharjan. Aussems wanted to fly directly to Bangladesh for Bangabandhu but his request was rejected by the FA. Aussems then vent his dissatisfaction over social media.
Aussems did not return to Nepal but his reforms worked wonders. His playing style and 4-3-3 formation proved right as Nepal won Bangabandhu Gold Cup under Maharjan. The average age of that team was 21.12 years, much lower than 23.4 of curent team.
A month later, Raju Kaji Shakya led the team to the 12th SAG gold medal. Even today, the majority of players are from the same squad that Aussems had built. Nawayug Shrestha was pivotal in both those successes.
Aussems will not have his name in the history books provided he did not have any favorable result. But even today the players and coaches speak high about him. He built a strong base even in a short period of his tenure. Had he stayed longer, we could have seen even more.
Almutairi in present has started another attempt to change the current scene. There is a lot of optimism in his plans and the time is right to start another change. The world cup qualifiers can be a platform to gain experience for new blood. The team can then be strong for the SAFF Championship.
Not just as a coach, but Almutairi’s influence in Asian football can be useful for Nepal. Almutairi helped his former team Kyrgyzstan come to Nepal for Three Nations and his role was pivotal in managing the upcoming friendly with Iraq. Not just for the team but his personal relations may come in handy for players professionally too.
Almutairi has shared good relation with the current ANFA leadership. He is in constant contact with them and has had his plans approved to date. With corona, there is no chance of domestic football. and this can be used for good preparation of National Team once again.
ANFA missed out on making the most out of Aussems and his plans before. With Almutairi, ANFA should coordinate well. Like Almutairi said, ‘The result now, it may not come. But in two years they will bring result. Whether with me or without me’.
In the previous instance, Nepal got the result without Aussems. But this time, Almutairi should be given time to put his plans into action. At least until the SAFF Championship.