Senior players not satisfied with Almutairi's behaviour; Skipper Limbu bats for team members


A day after nine footballers left the national team training camp, head coach Abdullah Almutairi today started the process of replacing them with new players, while the All Nepal Football Association failed to find an amicable solution to address the issues raised by them.

Team manager Madhu Sudan Upadhyaya confirmed that nine players left the team hotel on Monday night after they had a discussion with Almutairi.

"We had a team meeting and every player was asked to put forward his point. Everything was okay until I left the hotel and all of a sudden I was informed that some of the players left the camp," said Upadhyaya.

According to team source, Rohit Chand, Sujal Shrestha, Ananta Tamang, Bimal Gharti Magar, Anjan Bista, Bishal Shrestha, Bishal Rai, Dinesh Rajbanshi and Suman Lama left the team hotel after 9:30PM on Tuesday. The national team, which is preparing for the final round of qualifiers for the Asian Cup, was divided over the issues raised by Chand, who plays professional football in Indonesia, and the team members revolted after having a heated argument with coach Almutairi.

Upadhyaya said Chand was not happy with the decision of shifting the team to the ANFA hostel. Chand is also believed to be protesting about the diet provided to the players along with behaviour of the coach towards the camp members.

According to Upadhyaya, Chand was not training for a couple of days due to knee injury and that some players were not happy with the shifting of the hotel.

"We wanted to shift the players to ANFA hostel after making some improvements in the facilities but Chand was against the idea. The players might be right in their case to some extent. I was also in talks with ANFA leadership regarding the facilities to the players but they should not have left the team hotel without informing me," said Upadhyaya.

"I was not present at the scene when they left the hotel. I came to know later that they had a word with coach Almutairi.

I have not been able to talk to the players despite numerous attempts. They have also left the national team's Facebook group," said Upadhyaya. "It is clearly a breach of discipline and I want ANFA to take stern action against the players," he added.

The group of nine players, however, met with All Nepal Football Association President Karma Tshiring Sherpa on Wednesday evening.

"I listened to them. They complained about the behaviour of the coach towards the players. It was a one-sided plea and I cannot jump to any conclusion with one side of a story. I will meet other stakeholders from tomorrow and take necessary decisions in due course," said Sherpa.

Upadhyaya said coach Almutairi had already prepared the list of new players to call in the national team and that he forwarded that to the ANFA.

Almutairi, an active social media user with a huge fan base, has not reacted to the issue and has not posted anything since uploading a video paying tribute to former women's national team member Nanda Kala Thapa.

The issue took a twist in the evening when national team skipper Kiran Kumar Limbu supported the players. "I am not satisfied with the behaviour of the coach towards national team players," Limbu wrote on his Facebook. "It is not right to force the players to leave the national team camp for raising genuine issues.

As a skipper and a member of the team, I am always with the players," added Limbu, who plays professional football in Maldives.

This is not the first time coach Almutairi put himself into controversy. The Kuwait coach - who has already played 'resignation card' on a couple of occasions and announced that he would never return to Nepal on the eve of the SAFF Championship final in Maldives last year, was earlier involved in a row with ANFA Senior Vice-president Pankaj Nembang and two sports journalists. ANFA had to request the Ministry of Youth and Sports to prove the issue after the football governing body failed to find a solution in its meeting.

The National Sports Council-formed probe committee instructed the ANFA to warn the coach and restrain him from using excessive social media. Recently, he came under scrutiny for announcing that Nepal were not able to qualify for the Asian Cup.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 28, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.