Upendraman Singh is one of the most recognisable faces of Nepali football. The former national goalkeeper, who also had the opportunity to captain the national side, has coached several national players, including SAG football gold-winning team member Bikesh Kuthu. Onlinekhabar talked to Singh about the U-23 team’s recent success, and his protege Kuthu. Translated excerpts:
The national side is not going to play any international match for the next 22 months. What do you expect from the game’s administrators to keep the players fit?
Yes, the national side does not have any international match for the next two years. This might have a negative impact on the fitness of the national side. The next tournament the national side will play is in December 2017 when it goes to Bangladesh for the SAF. We have already crashed out of the World Cup and the Asia Cup.
To keep the national team engaged, and to maintain their form, administrators of the game should think of sending the team to international matches. For example, ti would be a good idea to send them to Nehru Cup, or even the Banga Bandhu Cup. They should also make plans to send the players to Malaysia and Thailand.
Nepal won three gold medals in the SAG. One of the golds came from football.
When we won gold, I thought Nepal has won the whole games. Football is not only a popular sport in Nepal, but also in the whole world. That is what makes me happy.
You were part of the team that won the SAG gold 23 years ago. How was the feeling back then?
This SAG is in some ways similar to the SAG in 1993. Nepal was unable to win any gold, but we won gold in football, that too at the end of the games. Back then also the victory was more important that winning any other gold in the games.
During the Banga Bandhu Cup, you were the goalkeeper coach of the squad. But during the SAG, you were not given the same responsibility. Did you not see yourself celebrating the historic win with the team itself?
No, I did not feel that way. We needed a win, and our footballers delivered a win. We had to wait for 23 years to win gold in the SAG football. We are just supporters of the game, it is not necessary that we oversee the team. All we want is the players whom we have coached, to perform. Our wishes were with them.
You were, without doubt, the best goalies of your time. Your protege Bikesh Kuthu was Nepal’s goalie during the SAG. How would you evaluate his performance?
Bikesh got the opportunity to make it to the starting eleven during the Banga Bandhu Cup and the SAG. I think Bikesh had an important role to play in both the wins. The strikers also did their job, but Bikesh defended the post when it mattered. He has proven himself to the fans. This is a result of his effort and hard work.
Do you see Bikesh replacing Kiran Chemjong anytime soon?
His recent performances prove that he is the number one goalkeeper in Nepal. But he too has his own set of challenges. If he becomes complacent, he will lose his spot. Keeping the form he is in right now will also be a challenge. But I don’t see any reason why he can’t become the national team’s goalie.
As Bikesh’s coach, how did you feel watching him play?
I am on a mission to give opportunities to emerging goalies in Nepal. Not only Bikesh, I want to give opportunities to others also. I gave Bikes the opportunity to play for Madhyapur. Many players want to play for big teams, but they end up warming the bench. That is not good for football. If any goalie leaves his mark even when playing for a weak side, he can get a place in the national squad. Bikesh has proven this.