An interim coach and a new skipper will lead the Bhutanese national football team when they face Hong Kong today. This is the sixth game in the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and another good opportunity to face an international team as we build a national team.
Football, unfortunately grasped the headlines for the wrong reasons as the head coach was relieved of his duties and Bhutan lost all its qualifiers conceding 32 goals in the process.
There is an open blame game happening and that is not the best preparation for our next fixture. We are out of the World Cup qualifiers and sit at the bottom of the table without a point. We can still gain from being in the competition as playing at this level will give enough exposure to our national team. Qualifying was not the priority as we were aware of the foreboding round against the likes of Qatar and China.
The team without the head coach is already being analysed by the opponent. They are expecting a stronger regrouped or a crest fallen team to take them on. The match for Hong Kong is important as they fight for the top place. Win or lose, there will be analysis.
It is evident that Bhutan is taking a defensive approach. We can park the bus and not concede a goal. If we can limit the damage by conceding fewer goals doubters would be convinced that the strategy adopted by the former coach, now on his way to Japan, was wrong.
The head coach, disappointed at the turn of events mid way through the qualifying round, had no good words to leave for the team. But he felt that taking a defensive approach was not going to improve the players. He believed in the skills of the young players and wanted to use his strategy – all out attack even when conceding goals – to build a team from scratch. This is a strong message that we are still building a team from start.
Football is not judged by a single game although because of the poor success rate, a win or a draw gives the occasional spectator a satisfying experience. To the credit of the national team and the Bhutan Football Federation, football has developed a commendable sense of professionalism. Yet there is much left to be done.
This starts with the players. Professional football is a career and not a pastime. Although not paid enough to make a living off football, our national players need to follow the route. They shouldn’t hate the coach for not letting them off for shopping or clubbing when on national duty. Professional footballers, no matter how good they suddenly lose their place when found drinking or even straying out of the team hotel. Discipline is a part of the game.
Meanwhile, there are now questions arising on how the federation is run. Although not openly discussed and limited to social media, some are saying that football in Bhutan will improve only if the federation officials are changed. This could be out of frustration, but it is true that we need more than football enthusiasts to run federations. We need trained professionals.