Nepal Super League targets a season to remember and reignite football fever in the country

Nepal Super League - NSL

The organisers of the Nepal Super League are leaving no stone unturned to ensure the success of the second edition of Nepal’s only franchise football league. Employing various strategies and methods, they aim to make the tournament special and leave a lasting impression on football fans across the country.

The news of the legendary former Chelsea and Ivory Coast striker, Didier Drogba, gracing the league has stirred excitement among football fans across the country.

In another significant development, the upcoming tournament marks the first time fans will be allowed, a contrast from the inaugural edition held during the pandemic, which did not permit audience attendance.

Despite the Martyrs Memorial League not meeting fan expectations, organisers express confidence in the Nepal Super League attracting a considerable audience. This optimism has generated excitement among players, who are eagerly anticipating the resurgence of a vibrant footballing atmosphere in Kathmandu.

Battle of the cities

Nepal Super League
Kathmandu Rayzrs celebrate winning the inaugural Nepal Super League.

Seven franchise teams participated in the inaugural edition of the Nepal Super League. The champion, Kathmandu Razyrs FC, competed against Dhangadhi FC, Lalitpur City FC, Pokhara Thunders, FC Chitwan, Biratnagar City FC, and Butwal Lumbini FC.

For the upcoming tournament, three new teams — Jhapa FC, Sporting Ilam de Mechi, and Birgunj United — have been added to the Nepal Super League. However, Biratnagar FC has decided not to participate in the second edition. Consequently, a total of nine teams will now contend for the championship in a single round-robin format, involving 40 matches, including qualifiers and finals.

The Nepal Super League, slated to run from November 24 to December 30, will feature two matches on six days and only one match on the remaining days. The inaugural match will showcase former champions Kathmandu Razyrs against the new entrant, Sporting Ilam de Mechi.

Introducing brand ambassador

Sadina Shrestha has been part of the national women's basketball team since 2011. Since then, she has been a constant in the team captaining it since then. Photo: Shankar Giri
Sadina Shrestha is the brand ambassador for Lalitpur City FC. Photo: Shankar Giri

The teams participating in the Nepal Super League are pioneering the introduction of brand ambassadors to promote their respective clubs. Leading the way in this initiative are Lalitpur City FC, Jhapa FC, Butwal Lumbini FC and Dhangadhi FC.

Lalitpur City has selected Sadina Shrestha, the captain of the Nepali women’s national basketball team, as its brand ambassador. Meanwhile, Dhangadhi FC, the runners-up of the first edition, has enlisted TikTok influencer Miss Pabi to represent the team.

Following the same trend, Jhapa FC has appointed Nepali footballing legend Hari Khadka as its brand ambassador, while Butwal Lumbini FC has secured the services of the legendary cricketer Shakti Gauchan, a stalwart of the Nepali cricket team, to serve as its brand ambassador.

International coaches

Lalitpur City FC coach Ian Andrew Gillan

In the inaugural edition of the Nepal Super League, Yan Law was the sole foreign coach, guiding Biratnagar FC. Likewise, Lalitpur City was under the supervision of Pradeep Humagai, an American citizen of Nepali origin. This time around, three out of the nine teams have hired the expertise of seasoned foreign coaches.

Lalitpur City FC has named Australian Ian Andrew Gillan as the head coach for the upcoming season. Jhapa FC has brought in Oriol Mohedano Segura from Spain to lead the team, while FC Chitwan has secured the services of Indian Mehrajuddin Wadoo for the coaching position. Initially, FC Chitwan had appointed India’s Khalid Jamil as the head coach, but the contract was mutually terminated.

The remaining six teams have Nepali coaches at the helm. Former champion Balgopal Maharjan continues to lead Kathmandu Razyrs, and Navin Neupane remains with Pokhara Thunders. Kishore Rai is retained as the coach for Dhangadhi FC.

Meghraj KC, who coached Chitwan in the first edition, has assumed the role of head coach for Sporting Ilam de Mechi this time. Meanwhile, Sanoj Shrestha, the former coach of Butwal Lumbini FC, is now leading Birgunj United. The head coaching position for Butwal Lumbini has been filled by Bijay Maharjan.

Young marquee players galore

Nepal Super League marquee players.

In the inaugural edition of the Nepal Super League, seasoned and renowned players held the position of marquee players. However, a recent shift in trend has witnessed an increase in the number of young players being designated as marquee players, coinciding with the growing migration of football players to Australia.

Ayush Ghalan, discovered through a talent hunt in the first edition of the Nepal Super League, has now assumed the role of marquee player for Pokhara Thunders. Similarly, forward Ashish Chaudhary has earned the status of a marquee player for Dhangadhi FC in less than a year after joining the national team. Another young forward, Hisub Thapaliya, holds the marquee player position for Kathmandu Razyrs, while Arik Bista is designated as Butwal Lumbini FC’s marquee player, and goalkeeper Deep Karki assumes the marquee role for Birgunj FC.

Ananta Tamang, who was not a marquee player in the first edition, now holds the position of Lalitpur City FC’s marquee player, taking over from Bimal Gharti Magar, who has relocated to Australia.

Only Anjan Bista and the goalkeeper duo Bishal Shrestha and Bikesh Kuthu, who were marquee players in the first edition, retain their marquee status in the second edition. Shrestha is the marquee for FC Chitwan, Kuthu for Sporting Ilam de Mechi, and Bista for Jhapa FC. Interestingly, three goalkeepers hold the marquee position.

Following the auction, Nawyug Shrestha, the marquee player for Pokhara Thunders in the first edition, and Bharat Khawas, the marquee for FC Chitwan, have joined Sporting Ilam de Mechi for the upcoming season.

Four players who had moved to Australia have returned to Nepal as iconic players. Bimal Gharti Magar is designated as the iconic player for FC Chitwan, Ashish Lama for Butwal Lumbini FC, Tej Tamang for Birgunj United, and Dinesh Rajbanshi for Pokhara Thunders.

Notably, Nepali national team captain Kiran Kumar Limbu and defender Rohit Chand are absent from the Nepal Super League as they are currently engaged in league play with foreign clubs. In the first season, Kiran played for Dhangadhi FC.

Charm of foreign players

In contrast to the first edition, the second edition of the Nepal Super League is witnessing twice the number of foreign players, with a significant presence from African countries. Notably, players with experience in the FIFA World Cup and European leagues are making their way to Nepal this time.

One such player is Afriyie Acquah, a Ghanaian who participated in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Acquah made his World Cup debut as a substitute player in a 2-1 defeat against Portugal.

Unlike the first season, where teams were limited to three foreign players, this time the allowance has been increased to five. With nine participating teams featuring five foreign players each, a total of 45 players are set to participate in the Nepal Super League. More than two-thirds of these players hail from African countries, with additional representation from Europe and Asia.

Many teams have already announced the names of their foreign players, and a majority of them have arrived in Nepal, joined their respective teams, and commenced training.

Former champions Kathmandu Razyrs have secured the services of Tojidinov Komiljon and Shokhrukh Mahmudxojiyev from Uzbekistan, as well as Oliver Kingue and Juan Olivier Simo Kingue from Cameroon. Adding to their international roster, Ghana’s Stephen Abeiku Acquah has been signed as a foreign player.

Lalitpur City has made notable additions to its lineup with the signing of goalkeeper Jeffrey Baltus, French forward Papa Ibou Kebe, and Nigerian defender Omolaja Karim as foreign players. These players bring experience from the second, third, and fourth divisions of football in France. The names of the remaining two foreign players for Lalitpur City have not been disclosed as of now.

Former runner-up Dhangadhi FC has retained Nigerian forward Olawale Afeez Oladipo, who has showcased his talents in Nepali domestic football. Additionally, Dhangadhi FC has added international flair to its roster with the inclusion of Fallou Diagne from Senegal and Trey Williams from England, both of whom have previous experience in European leagues. The team has also secured the services of Lebanese goalkeeper Mohammad Taha and Ghanaian Richard Osei Agyemang, both actively participating in the domestic league.

FC Chitwan has bolstered its squad with notable signings, including Ghanaian players Afriye Azquah and Yussif Mubarik. Additionally, the team has secured the services of Spanish defender Ivan Gonzalez, Ghanaian Rafic Aminu, and Torric Jebrin, who brings World Cup experience to the roster.

Meanwhile, Pokhara Thunders has made significant additions with the signings of Franklin Kute Talla from Cameroon, as well as Ghanaian players Joe Aidoo, Moses Gyabaah Twum, Stephan Joko Paapa Annor, and Yves Priso. These international players are expected to contribute to the team’s performance in the upcoming season.

Butwal Lumbini has made notable signings for the upcoming season, including Stephen Binong from Cameroon, who has been performing well in domestic football in Nepal and was previously with former champions Kathmandu Razyrs. Additionally, the team has secured the services of Cameroon’s defensive midfielder Nicolas Serge Song. The names of other players in the Butwal Lumbini squad are yet to be announced.

Among the new teams, Jhapa FC has made significant signings to strengthen its squad. The team has secured the services of Spanish midfielder Nando Cozar Torres, Uzbekistan’s centre-back Samadar Ochilov, and Serbia’s talented age-group goalkeeper Stefan Cupic. These international players bring diverse skills and experiences, adding depth to Jhapa FC’s lineup for the upcoming Nepal Super League season.

Sporting Ilam de Mechi has secured the signings of Ibrahima Djite, Amath Ndaw, and Abdoulaye Ba from Senegal, along with Fode Camara from Guinea and Suraj Singh from India.

On the other hand, Birgunj United has made notable signings by securing the services of four players from Ghana: William Opoku Asieou, Hans Kwofie, Obed Owusu, and Aikins Kyei Baffour. Additionally, the team has signed Congolese player Tshamala Djadje as a foreign player. These international signings are expected to contribute to Birgunj United’s performance in the upcoming season.

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Nepal is a sports correspondent for Onlinekhabar.

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