As with many national teams across the world, the development of youth programs (such as the U-14, and U-16 squads) is absolutely paramount in investing for the players of tomorrow. Especially given that football is a sport where players peak their potential between the ages of 27 and 30.
Some outfield players blossom immensely in their youth, and take the limelight during their teenage years. Others are late-bloomers, and take longer to nurture their talent. Whichever route they do take, it is clear that the level of quality will depend on match and tournament experience.
We’ve seen it from time to time. Take South Africa 2010 (FIFA World Cup) for example. The German side (led by coach Joachim Löw) opted for more of a youthful flair to their squad. And as such, gained incredible amounts of confidence and experience at the big stage. So now, the Germans have a fully tried-and-tested experienced side that can deliver. And this is all as a result of blooding the young players such as Özil, Götze, and Mueller, etc. Even in the 2014 World Cup this year, in the England national team two-thirds of the squad are youngsters who have never competed at a World Cup before.
Sometimes youth can be a huge benefit, as we see with players such as Bimal Gharti Magar. Teenage delusions of invincibility can translate into dominant performances on the field. To illustrate this, look no further than Pelé, who scored 6 goals in the 1958 World Cup for his senior team at the tender age of 17.
But what can Nepal learn from all this? The answer is simple and obvious. Look towards the under-17 squads.
Coach Bal Gopal Maharjan has done wonders fostering this side. However, he must look towards using Thailand (or even Chile!) as a stage to ‘blood the youth’ for the senior team. However it is not just the youth that holds the key to Nepal’s future. The importance of a responsible athlete’s diet cannot be underestimated when planning the path to success on the field. And as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger once said: “Food is like kerosene. If you put the wrong one in your car, it’s not as quick as it should be”. This is something that needs to be taken seriously (if Nepal wishes to compete on the world stage).
According to the FA (England), the essential nutrients that a footballer requires are detailed as follows: Simple carbohydrates: found in sweets, cakes, soft drinks, jam. Complex carbohydrates: found in rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals, fruit. Saturated fats: found in butter, margarine, cheese, pasties. Unsaturated fats: found in sunflower oil, salmon, nuts. Protein: found in milk, chicken, eggs, fish, yogurt. Vitamins and minerals: found in fruit, vegetables, dairy products. Fiber: found in seeds, peas, beans. Water: found in foods, drinks, formulated sports drinks.
That includes no smoking. At all. And especially No junk food (Instant noodles such as rara/waiwai are powdered with ‘E-numbered’ chemicals that hamper energy levels). This goes for burgers, and food that are drenched in vegetable oil too. Use olive oil whenever possible. Eating poor food really does impact on energy and overall performance of a player. I’m sure Bimal would have noticed all this during his training in Europe. Europeans take diet very seriously in football, and it shows. Villarreal club doctor Hector Uso told uefa.com what he believes are the ideal meals for a young player to eat before and after a match.
“You have to try and maintain glucose in the blood by giving it some carbohydrates like in pasta or rice and always in combination with vegetables and a small amount of protein, and as free from fat as possible. So fish is ideal. That would be the perfect meal before a match. We usually eat three hours before a game but I would recommend eating even a bit before that; something like three-and-a-half hours before would be perfect.”
Moreover; Nepalese players are naturally small and Lilliputian compared to the tree-trunk sized African/European players. But do not let that be a disadvantage! Despite Lionel Messi being listed at 5 foot 7 inches, he manages to worm his way through tiny creases within defenders (that few other players could squeeze through). By being small, his low center of gravity enables lightening quick bursts of pace that makes him one of the planet’s best dribblers. Capitalising our small height with speed is something that Nepal must work on.
Alongside this, we also need to grow tall players for aerial assaults (i.e. good heading ability) and long balls. Let’s look at Yaya Toure of Manchester City/Cote D’Ivor. The basic rule in football is that, the taller the player, the worse his/her touch is. But this doesn’t apply in this case. Toure is a classic 21st century central midfielder. Big, strong, and fast. But he also has incredibly soft feet for a big man. Has boasts 20 goals out of 64 shots/9 assists for Manchester City last season, and he was also the most proficient in his long-range shots (converting 25% of his shots from outside the box).
Finally – spot kicks! Or Pens (as I like to call them). Sports psychology has shown, most interestingly, that opponents tend to miss their shots whenever the previous spot kicker celebrates with high aggression and intensity. This tends to put off the next player and raises nerves, increasing the chances of a mistake. Have a look at this video and watch the celebrations that follow, and its effects on the players taking the next shot. Nepal must implement this strategy, if we ever reach penalties in Thailand.
So with all this, ANFA needs to manufacture players like Lionel Messi, Yaya Toure, and Julian Green. While holding onto some of the more older players to provide key-experience in the team. Hopefully through this, we will have a dynamic and young Nepal side led by Bimal Gharti Magar within the next 5 years. And who knows, perhaps we may even qualify for Qatar 2022. I believe. But belief isn’t enough on its own, we must follow this with real action. But I think we can do it! Do you?
Ash Chetri is a contributing writer for GoalNepal.com, for comments and questions you can reach him via twitter, @Ashtopher.