Football: Seven months after coach Norio Tsukitate took over as the head coach of the Bhutanese National Football team, his relationship with the Dragon Boys is better.

Coach Norio first joined the Dragon Boys during their practice tour in Thailand for the game against Sri Lanka. He entered the scene at a time when Bhutanese football was on a high.

Bhutan was the last ranked team in the world but then it stunned a much higher ranked Sri Lankan team in the first round of the qualifiers.

Expectations were high. Another victory was expected. Then reality happened.

The Dragon Boys failed to deliver a second win being beaten by Honk Kong and China, and most recently by Cambodia in a friendly.

The players are aware that they are playing at a different level.

“We could not win even a single match but at the same time we need to understand that the level of football in this round is totally different,” said Karan Gurung. “We’re disappointed with our own performance, we can do better and we will in the coming games.”

Coach Norio said that football in Bhutan is at a nascent stage and that there will be improvements only if mentalities change. “Most of the players don’t take the game seriously. They want to win but they don’t want to work hard for that victory, they have to change this mentality.”

He said that football, like any other profession requires full dedication. “Being technically and tactically sound is the key to becoming a good footballer and to do that, they need training.”

Many of the players feel the coach trains them too hard. But coach Norio said that the training schedule he follows for the team is light compared to other national teams.

He said that it’s difficult dealing with senior teams because adults have set minds. “If it was for the under-14 or under-19 teams, grooming them would be much easier.”

Norio Tsukitate, 55, is very punctual and particular. The Japanese are known for their discipline and punctuality. Latecomers to any activities are not tolerated and predictably, some of the Bhutanese players find this practise difficult to cope with, which ends up with the coach being even stricter.

But the players are beginning to see that such measures could pay off in the long term.

Goalie Tshering Dendup said that everyday is a new learning experience. “The coach is particular with everything and he tries to instil that habit onto us which is difficult at times but it’s necessary,” he said. “His actions morally boosts us and makes us give our 100 percent during training sessions.”

Karun Gurung agrees that at times the training sessions are hard but at the same time required to become a professional player. “The results might not show now but definitely in the near future it’ll be an asset. We’re not professional players. But to have got this opportunity to participate in the World Cup qualifiers itself is a huge opening for us.”

Coach Norio said that so far the players have been following his instructions. “We’ve lost a series of games this time but personally I have a feeling that the game against Qatar is going to be different, not saying that we would win but its going to be different,” he said.

“Football is unpredictable. It’s a battle between 22 players where both the teams have equal opportunities to win,” coach Norio said. “Ninety minutes is all it takes to decide the fate of the team,” he added. “This time we are prepared, this time we will deliver.”

Younten Tshedup