Ranjit Dhimal: The defender who staked claim as a strikerThree Star’s left-back Ranjit Dhimal achieved a rare feat in the recently concluded Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League where he finished as the joint top scorer.
Three Star’s left-back Ranjit Dhimal achieved a rare feat in the recently concluded Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League where he finished as the joint top scorer.
The 27-year-old went on to win the best defender award despite the star-studded Three Star finishing third in the league that ended on January 8. He was among the handful of players to feature in all 13 league games without being substituted. Dhimal was also one of the only two Three Star players along with goalkeeper Alan Neupane to play the entire 1266 minutes without being taken out ever.
“It was really a great to have won the individual accolade as the best defender. But it would have been far better had we lifted the league title itself,” said the Nepali international who started playing football since his childhood at his village in Urlabari, Morang. Dhimal believed his team’s defeat against eventual champions Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) and draw against Tribhuvan Army Club (TAC) derailed their title hunt. “Third-place finish is not bad but we could have done much better than that,” said Dhimal who is yet to win the Martyrs Memorial League title but was an influential member of Three Star that claimed the National League in 2015.
Of the seven goals Dhimal scored five came from penalty spot, one from a rebound off penalty attempt and one from a freekick. What set him apart from the rest of the defenders was his expertise in taking dead-ball situation and precise crosses. “I have scored almost all goals on penalties and it was all possible because of the faith that my coach (Meghraj KC) had in me. He had assigned me to take penalties and freekicks that we earn on the left side,” said Dhimal who came into the notice of top-tier teams in 2009.
“He is technically sound and physically very tough. His ability to go on the overlap and supply powerful crosses is what sets him apart from the rest of the defenders,” said Three Star coach KC. “He is exceptional player with his left foot. The confidence and ease with which he takes freekicks and penalties prompted me to assign him for such dead-ball situations. He didn’t disappoint me during the league,” added KC.
Three Star were the first top-tier team to take notice of him while playing in the British Gurkha Cup for Eastern Region and the Lalitpur outfits signed him in 2009. “I still remember scoring a goal each against Jawalakhel (Youth Club) and Friends Club then,” recalled Dhimal who followed into the footsteps of his elder brother Bijay Dhimal. Four years older than Ranjit, Bijay also plays for Three Star Club as right-back.
Ever since Three Star recruited Dhimal, he has cemented his place in the domestic football. After one season with Three Star, Dhimal joined Nepal APF Club and went on to play for New Road Team (NRT) and Machhindra before returning to his old club in 2015. He has since established himself as a reliable defender for the Lalitpur-based outfits.
Despite his domestic exploits, he is struggling to get playing time in the national team. He has so far won just five caps despite making debut for Nepal during a friendly against Philippines in Qatar in 2014. Since 2014, Dhimal has been part of the Nepali team but has been warming the bench most of the time. He played in friendlies against Philippines and Bangladesh just ahead of the 2015 SAFF Championships. He also played against Sri Lanka and India in the Championship itself. Dhimal was also in the Nepali team that played against Philippines in the 2017 AFC Asian Cup Qualification where he was an unused substitute.
“I sustained knee injury during the Panchthar Gold Cup in 2017 shortly after the Philippines match which kept me out of action for six months,” said Dhimal who was again named in the national squad during Nepal’s last match of the AFC Asian Cup Qualification against Yemen in March 2018. He was also the non-playing member of the Nepali team that went on to win historic AFC Solidarity Cup in 2016, the first ever Asian title for Nepal.
But he was ignored in Nepal’s last international outing, the SAFF Championship in September last year. Nepal Police Club left-back Rabin Shrestha, who was himself out of action for a year due to ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)injury, was preferred ahead of Dhimal. Dhimal believes he was in top form ahead of SAFF Championship having competed in numerous knockout tournaments unlike Shrestha who was still nursing his injury and had not featured in competitive football. Dhimal appeared the likely choice but the-then coach Bal Gopal Maharjan went for experience rather than form and picked up Shrestha instead.
“Rabin is really an outstanding player and I always admired his game. But he had not played a single tournament before going to SAFF Championship. On the contrary I was busy playing football outside the Kathmandu Valley and was in good form. Under the circumstance, it was disappointing for me not to picked up for the Championship,” said Dhimal, a big fan of Portuguse star Cristiano Ronaldo and retired Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho.
Despite his football passion, Dhimal believes it was tough playing football in Nepal. “Pursuing football as carrier in Nepal is still a big risk,” said Dhimal. “The top-tier league thankfully resumed after four years,” said Dhimal who has the responsibility of looking after not only his wife and a daughter but also the parents and two younger brothers. “We can somehow manage to survive if the league continues on regular basis,” said the defender who believes the future is uncertain once the playing career of a footballer ends.