Raju Kaji Shakya, a debutant in the National Football Team in 1981 at the age of 19, represented Nepal in 91 international matches until his retirement as a player seventeen years later in 1997. His non-playing career has remained no less adventurous. He is currently serving as the head of the Nepalese women’s national team.
The legendary footballer and coach – triumphed the gold medal as a player, then as the national captain and again as a coach.
He appeared as the guest at Desh Sanchar Chautari and reminisced about his unwavering journey.
“Football is all I know”, Shakya says, “my dream has always been to uplift the country’s performance.” Several adversities including financial crunch and lack of fair recognition of contributions had displeased him at times. But his passion and pertinent discipline have always helped him continue onwards.
He says that the Nepalese team had more international exposure during his playing career despite the inadequate facilities. The situation at present is just the reverse – there are facilities but no future prospects. This lack of prospect and long-term planning accompanied by limited playing opportunities is causing an exodus of players.
The skipper recalled the end of his nearly two decades long (1981-1997) playing career as he along with other four players had to bid farewell without any formal retirement.
He credits the arrival of coach Rudi Gutendorf in bringing a paradigm shift in the way the team played. He replaced the archaic style of chasing the ball with modern man-marking approach. While playing at the Training Center- Rudi, who saw our game for the first time, reprimanded pointing at our game format-just chasing the ball. We had even not understood him telling us to stop and continued our way of playing. ‘Why are you all running through a ball and stuck around? ‘Stay one to one’- man marking on the field. This suggestion alone generated a paradigm shift, he recollects the memory.
Shakya paid huge tributes to Sharad Chandra Shah for motivating players and injecting sense of discipline and dedication.
Shakya shares some interesting facts about players and their emotional immersion while participating at international tournaments. Humiliation because of a big defeat impacted them so much that they had abstained from eating as they could not face others in the dining room.
He reiterates that Nepalese people love football and Nepal has both enthusiastic players and audiences, but the lack of philosophy has taken Nepalese football in a downward spiral. He referred to the recent Under-19 and Under-16 selection. More than 600 aspiring players turned up during the recent under-16 selection process in NRT alone that he led, which shows an unwavering love of the football.
He states the Nepalese national women’s team has the ambition of playing in the World Cup by 2031. He believes a proper long-term plan is a must to set the motion in the right direction.