By Sushil Thapa
Japanese Koji Gyotoku is the latest addition to the long list of foreign coaches to be associated with the national football team of Nepal.
In the last six years, he is the fourth foreigner to be hired as head coach of the national team by the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA).
There has been a parade of departing foreign coaches, one after another. Someone like me who follows Nepali football, this does not surprise me at all.
Mr. Gyotoku appointment was a low-key affair sans fanfare. His contract terms are unclear and the football body has failed to make it public for inexplicable reasons.
Also the local media had/has no interest whatsoever to question the football body about his contract. I figure they are just elated that the team got another foreign coach.
Despite the influx of foreign coaches into Nepali football, it has not made real, tangible difference to the team in terms of improvement, and there is no certainty that it will ever improve.
Nobody disputes the fact that foreign coaches bring to the table a wealth of knowledge, experience, expertise and professionalism, but it hardly matters if they fail to make a difference or produce desired results.
To be fair, the pathetic state of Nepali football makes the job extremely tough, challenging for any coach, foreign or local. Admittedly, the challenge is much bigger for foreign coaches.
Apart from language barrier and adjusting to a new culture, there is the pressure of coaching, high expectations and delivering results.
Reality bites: they realize they have to deal with a whole range of burning issues : dysfunctional and politicized football body like ANFA, inadequate football facilities, absence of professional league, lack of international friendlies, coupled with concern over players’ match-fitness and competiveness and many more.
The purpose of hiring a foreign coach is to turn things around for the football team. If it does not work, the motive becomes irrelevant, making no sense at all. Even the very best in the business can do much.
In other words, it becomes a wasted investment. Not forgetting Nepali football has seen enough of foreign coaches without much success over the years.
In the general environment of Nepali football, there is no way a foreign coach can thrive and make headway.
On statistical grounds, the team has under achieved under foreign coaches, undoubtedly.
On the other hand, ironically, we have achieved success under home -grown coaches lately. There is no dearth of qualified local coaches within the country who have the ability to take the team to new heights.
Disappointingly, ANFA has consistently overlooked local coaches for the coveted position in recent years. Either they have no faith in them, or they think they cannot do the job.
This line of thinking is wrong and needs to be changed. I am very confident that they can perform with considerable aplomb and distinction. We should not be abandoning them. In my humble opinion it makes more sense for us to invest in our own coaches.
That said, homegrown coaches are susceptible to interference and politics of ANFA and tend to compromise their integrity under pressure.
Serving as head coach, Dhan Bahadur Basnet, Krishna Thapa and Maheshwor Mulmi are a handful of local coaches to have the longest period of service.
The good news is that we have a brigade of new generation of coaches in the likes of Bal Gopal Maharjhan, Raju Shakya, Pradeep Huamagain,Hari Khadka and many more are waiting in the wings.
ANFA has not spared foreign coaches also. The office bearers have a tendency to interfere more than they should with their activities..
They make efforts to deny them the freedom to act independently when it comes to enforcing their action of plan, which include grooming the team and selection of players.
The working relationship between the two sides has been frequently marred by differences for the most part. An example of this is Belgian Patrick Aussems’ stormy relation with ANFA.
It is no secret that the bureaucracy within ANFA is a major impediment and is what makes the job so hard and difficult for any coach.
A foreign coach can long last but if only he is willing to compromise and agrees to work along side an overreaching ANFA.
ANFA does not mind hiring a non-confrontational, appeasing coach like Jack Stefanowski who had more than two years of stint with the national team.
On the other hand, no-nonsense style coaches like Graham Roberts and Patrick Aussems are not ANFA’s preference.
The 51-year-old Gyotoku steps into the shoes of coach Aussems and is the second Japanese to be in charge of Team Nepal. It may be recalled that back in 2005 his country fellow Toshihko Shiozawa was the team’s head coach.
The former J –league and Werder Bremen player Gyotoku’s coaching credentials looks impressive. He started his coaching career in 2003 with Japanese club Shimzu S-Pulse and in between was in charge of other Japanese clubs like Omiya Ardija and FC Gifu.
He coached the national team of Bhutan from 2008 to 2010 and Thailand’s1st division outfit Ang Thong FC from 2014 to 2015.
Having coached Bhutan, I guess, he understands the intricacies, challenges and bureaucracy surrounding South Asian football.
How he stands up to the challenge and grapples with the reality is yet to be seen. Whether he lives to our expectations or not, time will speak. But one thing is very obvious coach Gyotoku faces serious challenge.
Thapa is a senior Sports Journalist based in USA.