‘A’ Division League: Underperforming stars, controversies, poor management mar top-tier leagueUnderperforming Nepali international footballers, fixing allegations and a stunning Sankata Club club were the major highlights of the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League that concluded on Tuesday.
Underperforming Nepali international footballers, fixing allegations and a stunning Sankata Club club were the major highlights of the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League that concluded on Tuesday.
The top-tier league was held this year after the 2013-14 season. Despite the welcome resumption, it lost its usual charm from the onset due to the ‘no relegation’ provision, one of the fundamental aspects of league football.
The ‘unwelcome’ provision understandably prompted some of the teams like New Road Team (NRT), Machhindra Club and Friends Club not to bother bolstering their squads. Friends relied on all U-20 players as was the case with NRT, who ultimately finished bottom of the table.
Friends coach Ramesh Maharjan clearly said their proirities was the next season and did not take this year’s league seriously. NRT coach Maheshwar Mulmi, however, said they were unable to strengthen their team due to the dearth of quality players. “There are hardly any quality players left to look for as most of the experienced ones are already contracted with other clubs. Dearth of players was obvious in a long absence of league,” said Mulmi.
Leaving aside few exceptions, the highly-rated national team players themselves failed to perform to their star billings. Considering the international exposure, the so-called established stars should have distinguished themselves from the rest. But as it turned out, they appeared on par with age-group and relatively inexperieced players.
Manang Marshyangdi Club had 10 current or former Nepali internationals at their dispossal along with four foreign recruits and they at least justified themselves by clinching the title. On the contrary, Three Star battled to third place behind Sankata despite havinig seven national team players and three foreign recruits in their squad. Sankata did not have such a star power yet they were the ones who were in the real hunt for the title against MMC.
“There should have been marked gulf between the national players and the rest. But it wasn’t the case as the big names failed to live up to expectations. Its an alarming sign,” said Three Star coach Meghraj KC after his team’s win over Sankata. KC also painted a grim picture of football standard, saying: “Usually, we see easy wins for the big teams agains minnows. But that wasn’ the case as the top teams had to eke out victory against the bottom sides.”
KC observation appears to be correct considering how the eventual champions MMC fared against the bottom sides Friends Club (11th), Machhindra (13th) and NRT (14th). MMC lost to Friends 1-0 in their last game while narrowly defeated NRT 2-0 and Machhhindra 1-0. Of the 14 teams, 11 took the services of 33 foreigners in their squad and 22 of them scored at least one goal. The foreign recruits accounted for 53 of the total 228 goals struck. MMC’s Nigerian forward Olawale Afeez was among the highest scorer with seven goals under his belt. The over dependency on foreign recruits also tells the volumes of the flagging standard of Nepali league at this stage.
Besides, poor mismanagement, refereeing controversy and allegations of match-fixing marred the league. The organisers made two major blunders rarely seen in professional league elsewhere in the world. They released an authentic squad with a check list that had 10 players for Nepal Police Club and 11 for Sankata. In another bizarre situation, during Nepal APF Club’s 3-1 win over Machhindra, an unregistered player appeared for the latter as a substitute.
Refereeing controversy started from the first game until the last round. Referee Sudish Pandey was banned for more than a dozen of matches for repeated blunders. NRT coach Mulmi even blamed Pandey for taking bribes from the Army team. MMC coach Suman Shrestha made allegations of ‘setting’ while Three Star coach Meghraj KC was critical of ANFA’s indifference towards possible match-fixing.
Despite all the shortcomings, the resumption of the league was a big relief for football community at the least. It brought around 400 individuals—players, coaches and officials—together to push forward the football movement. To sum up in the words of NPC coach Ananta Raj Thapa, the league was the reality check of players and officials but will be crucial in moving the game forward. “But it (league) must be held regularly,” said Thapa.