World Cup qualifier gives fillip to local league

New international signings expected to lift quality of football on offer

Yanmer-Thimphu: If the recent World Cup qualifying match at Changlimithang has rekindled the love for the beautiful game, local clubs will ensure that it continues.

The Thimphu A league has been recently renamed Yanmer Thimphu Premier League.  Prize money has increased manifold, and clubs are bringing in new coaches and players.

Thimphu FC, which was promoted from division B last year, had signed a new Italian coach, and has now hired two international players, a Japanese mid-fielder and a defender from Gambia.

The 39-year old Japanese, Dan Ito, has played in 17 different countries in the Asia Pacific region, including Japan, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Maldives, Hong Kong, Macau, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, The Philippines, Mongolia and Laos.

Bhutan is his 18th country.  He will don jersey number 18, a gesture of appreciation from his teammates.  Dan Ito said that he was going for a world record for the most number of countries that an individual has played for. “I haven’t applied for the record yet, but I will after my retirement,” he said.

The player from Sapporo, Japan started his professional career at the age of 22.  Ten days since his arrival in the country, Dan Ito said that he was enjoying his stay and the game with the boys.  He said some of the players in the team were very talented, and that he’d learned a lot from them during training sessions. “But we need to work as a team if we want to win the league,” he said.

Playing at an altitude of 23,000 feet above sea level takes its toll on foreign players. “I can’t run at my normal pace at this altitude, but that’s not going to stop me from giving my best,” Dan Ito said. “I’ll bring in my experience to the game and hopefully we will win the tournament together.”

Ousman Jeng, 19, the Gambian defender, played as a central defender for a Macau football club before joining Thimphu FC.  He has also been a key player in other clubs in Hong Kong, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Only a day in the country, Ousman Jeng had his first training with the players yesterday morning. “The players are all professionals. I think we’ll make a strong team,” he said.  Like Ito, Ousman Jeng is getting used to Thimphu’s thin air, but said that would not be an excuse for any of his weak performance during the tournament.

“We adjust like soldiers, we need to adapt to situation and give our best,” he said.

The club owner, Yiwang Pindarica, said that, with good players divided equally among the seven teams taking part this year, it will be a challenge for the newcomers (Thimphu FC) in the league. “But we have players, who are experienced, talented, passionate and determined to play and represent the club at the highest level,” she said.

She added that having Dan Ito in the team would definitely make a big difference with his more than 30 years of experience. “Having foreign players will help our national players gain more exposure, confidence in the game in every way possible,” she said.

With two professional players, and national heroes like Chencho Gyeltshen, Hari Gurung, Manoj and Kuenga Gyeltshen, Thimphu FC will take on Thimphu City FC in the opening game of the league on April 4 at the Changlimithang stadium.

Druk United, meanwhile, is in the process of acquiring permits for four Indian players, who will join the club.

By Younten Tshedup

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