Thinley Namgay

For the first time, Bhutan Premier League (BPL) will be played without international players due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Major clubs including Paro FC, Thimphu City FC and Transport United FC have featured foreign players in the past BPL seasons giving an added advantage to the teams.

With no foreign players in the league, football enthusiasts expect the season to be more competitive.

Defending champions, Paro FC had plans to sign four foreign players this season.

The club’s technical director and head coach, Puspalal Sharma said that every team had an equal opportunity to win the league this year. “The contribution of our four international players last season has been remarkable. Their presence made a huge impact.”

After winning the last season with a huge margin by winning 17 matches out of 18, Paro FC’s foreign players also made a significant impact during the AFC qualifiers against Defenders FC of Sri Lanka and Bengaluru FC of India last year.

Druk Stars FC had also signed four players for the season from Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania. However, the club had to cancel the signing after completing all the document verification.

The club’s proprietor and a coach, Kota said that there is a possibility of the season not being competitive given the concentration of more national players in few clubs. “I don’t have a single national player on my team. Most of the players are young and new.”

Paro FC, Thimphu City FC, Transport United FC, Ugyen Academy FC and the High Quality United FC have the maximum number of national players.

Bhutan Football Federation’s (BFF) media and marketing officer, Phuntsho Wangdi said that in the presence of foreign players, the domestic players remain on the bench. “At present, the clubs have a small pool of players with fitness and endurance.”

However, he said that signing foreign players helped the overall football development in the country.

“When we have more foreign players, our local players compete with them and learn new skills. It boosts the confidence of our players while playing on international platforms.”

Besides the four teams from last season, High Quality United FC, Paro United FC, Tensung FC and Druk Stars FC from Bhutan Super League 2020 will compete for this season that begins from August 1.

BFF Academy Under-17 and Druk United FC withdrew from the tournament.

BFF’s competition officer, Kinley Dorji said that the BFF Academy Under-17 was not taking part in the tournament considering the lack of physical advantage over other teams.

Druk United FC’s president, Indra Bahadur Rai said that the club had to cancel the tournament due to lack of sponsors.

Meanwhile, clubs in Thimphu have started their practice sessions since July 1. For the season, the venues would be at Changlimithang Stadium, Woochu Sports Arena in Paro and Ugyen Academy ground in Punakha.

Kinley Dorji said that Tensung FC has proposed to use Wangduephodrang army ground as one of the venues. “It is not confirmed for now.”

The tournament would be conducted closed doors and players and officials have to follow precautionary measures prescribed by FIFA and BFF.

BPL is the top domestic football league in the country and this season is the ninth edition of the unified league, which was rebranded as the BPL from the Bhutan National League last year.

BFF spends more than Nu 300,000 on each participating team.