Nepal football has not reached a level where they can be considered a force to be reckoned with at the international level, but going by recent statistics the Himalayan nation has certainly surpassed Bangladesh football and the All Nepal Football Associations (ANFA) academy has played a great role behind that upturn.
Although grooming footballers at academies of clubs is a staple of European football, that practice is all but absent in the sub-continent. As a result, a few national football associations in South Asia have taken the initiative to establish their own academies to take on the responsibility of grooming footballers.
South Asian giants India, fast-improving Nepal and Bhutan all have their own academies -- being run either through financial assistance from FIFA or their own funds -- but Bangladesh are lagging far behind. Although an academy was opened in Sylhet in 2015 with funding from FIFA, it functioned for only nine months. For the past four months the game's local governing body has repeatedly said they will start an academy, but that too seems to be in limbo.
Meanwhile, the Nepal football team now comprises of mostly academy-grown players and ANFA, who opened their academy in 2000, has taken the bold step of expanding the activities of its academy to different regions as well as to the grassroots level with boys aged 8-13.
"Apart from the ANFA academy in Kathmandu, we have established some technical centres in different regions, with each having accommodation facilities for 30 players. We are spending more than 50 lakh Nepalese rupees per year behind each of the centres with the help of FIFA, AFC and the government," said ANFA spokesman Kiran Roy, adding that they were also going to start an academy for girls.
"Two groups of footballers -- U-14 and U-16 -- train at the ANFA Academy round the year while other age-group teams come here to train for two to three months before any international tournament," said ANFA U-18 head coach Narayan Shreshta -- who once played football in Dhaka -- at the premises of academy at Lalitpur in Kathmandu.
Suman Shreshtha, who is assistant coach of the Nepal U-23 team, informed that at least two coaches of ANFA work at its 45 affiliated districts and scout promising players for regional training centres before talented footballers finally make their way to the ANFA academy.
"Three tournaments are being held for the U-14s each year aside from the school football tournament, so it is not a tough task for the coaches to unearth real talents," said AFC A-licenced coach Suman, adding that Nepal has adopted a new concept of hunting talents from the grassroots level, which ANFA defines as boys between the ages of 8 and 13.
"Nepal is stuck to a certain level although the footballers have been performing well at the regional level. We think they have problems with their basics and technique, so there is no alternative but to train them from the grassroots level," said Suman, also coach of Nepal's top club Manang Marshyangdi.
"We couldn't use [a certain] coaching philosophy at any level of competition, so we couldn't go further. The country's top coaches are trying to establish a style of play," Suman said, adding that they now have 31 AFC A-licenced coaches and 77 AFC B-licenced coaches.
While Nepal are attempting to introduce a footballing philosophy across all their teams with the aim of bringing international successes in the future, Bangladesh are still undecided about whether to start an academy.