Bhutan’s national football team (senior) have played around 15 international matches, excluding international friendly and exposure matches since Bhutan’s first competitive win in the preliminary round of 2018 World Cup qualifier in 2015.

The team played first ever world cup qualifier at Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2015. This, of course, was the most competitive match the team ever played. Defeating the much-higher-ranked team in the world cup qualifier, 3-1, Bhutan advanced to the second round of the qualification.

The result also confirmed team’s place in the play-off round for 2019 AFC Asian Cup.  However, the team’s achievement ended without a single win in the second round. The squad will play the last qualifier match against the Maldives next year.

Football has come a long way. Bhutanese footballers have begun playing for international clubs. However, local coaches have limited vital role to play even as they have exhibited their talent and managerial skills. Foreign coaches have always been at the forefront. However, fans, footballers, and local coaches think that often foreign coaches fail to understand the ground realities. There have been in the past incidents of unhappy relations with foreign coaches.

Dorji Khandu, a national coach who has been with the federation for more than six year, said the strategy and aim of both local and foreign coaches are the same. “The only difference is that we keep in the mind that we are losing always. We focus more on defending, looking for a draw, or losing by a close margin. Foreign coaches focus on both defense and attack, which is less applicable to our players.”

Of the total 15 international matches that the national squad played, only six matches were led by the local coaches. In the country today, there is one coach with AFC professional coaching licence, one with AFC A -level coaching licence. There are more than 30 local coaches with the AFC B-level coaching licence.

Pema, a national football coach, is only a local coach who was given a chance to manage the team in international competitions.

Dorji Khandu, who holds an A-level coaching certificate, said that there is no difference between local coach and foreign coach. “Foreign coaches are certified through the course conducted by AFC and FIFA, and the local coaches are certified through the same course.”

Of the total six matches led by a local coach, the results of the matches were close. Bhutan lost to the Maldives 3-4 at home, 0-3 at home to Qatar, 0-1 at home to Hongkong, 0-6 at home to China in world cup qualifier and 0-2 to Oman in AFC Asian Cup qualifier.  Of the two away matches led by the local coach, Bhutan lost to the Maldives 4-2 and 12-0 to China in world cup qualifier.

The result was similar in the away games managed by the foreign coaches. In the AFC Asian qualifier against Oman, led by a German coach, Bhutan suffered 14-0 loss and another 10-0 defeat from the Palestine. Bhutan lost 0-2 at home with Palestine under the same coach.

Senior national player, Dawa Tshering, said that local coaches have good match results. “We like to achieve improved game results and match performance. The only difference between foreign and local coaches is in the training. Local coaches are not taken seriously.”

The federation employs the local coaches on a contract basis. AFC professional-level coaches are paid Nu 20,000 salary. AFC A-level coaches are paid Nu 15,000, and AFC B-level coaches Nu 10,000. However, when the federation hires a foreign coach, the federation provides food, lodging, transport and shopping allowance. The expenditure to single foreign coaches, excluding salary supported by the grant, comes close to Nu 30,000 per month. To the German coach who recently left, the federation paid a monthly salary of USD 2,500.

The coach of Under-16 national team, Chencho Dorji, said that there is a need to recognise the potential of local coaches. Chencho Dorji led the U-16 national team in the AFC U-16 qualifier held in Iran this year.

He said that the federation provides advanced coaching course for the local coaches. “While local coaches are given training and knowledge, they should also get an opportunity to explore their knowledge. If we are given more opportunities, we will gain more experience. Foreign coaches have more experience than us.”

However, the captain of U-16 national team, Dorji khandu, said that performance improves under foreign coaches as the local coach is not taken seriously. “Foreign coaches are strict, they bring in new tactics and advanced game strategy. We are more serious with foreign coaches in the game and in the training.”

This far into the football journey, though, Bhutan’s FIFA ranking has dropped from the highest ranking of 159th in June 2015 to 190.