Bhutan Football Interview: Dasho Ugyen Tsechup Dorji
Bhutan’s national football team entered their first FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on March 12, 2015 to low expectations. The team, nicknamed “basement boys” by their opponents, was the world’s lowest-ranked team - 209th out of 209 national teams in FIFA rankings. Only one team member, Chencho Gyeltshen, is a professional player. Against all odds, Bhutan stunned everyone with consecutive wins over Sri Lanka, guaranteeing them a spot in the next round of qualifiers and a chance at Russia 2018.
We sat down with the President of the Bhutan Football Federation, Dasho Ugyen Tsechup Dorji, to discuss the wins, plans for the next round of qualifying matches and the future of football in Bhutan.
MYBHUTAN: What sets the 2015 Bhutan National Football Team apart from previous Bhutanese national teams?
DASHO: The difference is simple: the present National Team won. They won because of the opportunity that FIFA funding provided, which past teams didn’t receive. They have been given better football infrastructure than in the past. Most importantly, they had a point to prove, namely that they are not “basement boys,” a statement made by an ex- Sri Lankan player.
MYBHUTAN: Do you believe that the Sri Lankan team underestimated Bhutan? Did that contribute to Bhutan’s victory?
DASHO: Yes, the Sri Lankan team underestimated Bhutan and its players were overconfident, which helped us to win both the home and away games. The comments from their ex- captain and from their coach gave our boys extra energy and a drive for victory.
MYBHUTAN: After being called statements like “basement boys,” what do these wins mean for the people of Bhutan, and for the team?
DASHO: These wins have given our players confidence in themselves and in their abilities, and the belief that they can win. For the people of Bhutan, it has been an occasion to come together in support of our team and feel our national spirit.
MYBHUTAN: Were the wins over Sri Lanka as much of a shock to the Federation as they were to the rest of the world?
DASHO: No, the win over Sri Lanka did not come as a shock. Teams in south Asia are not very far apart, and any team could win on any given day.
MYBHUTAN: Why do you think Sri Lanka’s coach, Nikola Kavazovic, said that Bhutan, “deserves it [the win] more”?
DASHO: Because we played better football than Sri Lanka in both matches.
MYBHUTAN: Do these wins coincide with the recent surge of development in the country?
DASHO: I would say rather, that infrastructure development in national football contributed to the win.
MYBHUTAN: Given the strength of the AFC, and the expectations held for Bhutan, what does a successful World Cup Qualifying campaign look like to you?
DASHO: We must be realistic at this juncture; we have tough opponents ahead and it will not be easy. Having won against Sri Lanka in the pre-preliminary World Cup qualifier is already a huge achievement for Bhutan.
MYBHUTAN: How does the team plan to continue its winning streak?
DASHO: It will not be a question of continuing the winning streak, but of how we will use the opportunity of playing more experienced and higher ranked teams as training for the development of football in Bhutan.
MYBHUTAN: Do you feel you are the underdogs in the AFC? If so, how does that impact how you approach each fixture?
DASHO: Being the lowest ranked team in Asia and lacking international playing experience, we do feel ourselves to be the underdogs. The upside of being an underdog is that we have nothing to lose. Every match will be an experience in which our boys will play their hearts out and leave everything on the field.
MYBHUTAN: What are your team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses? How does the team aim to amplify its strengths and minimize its weaknesses?
DASHO: Our biggest strengths are commitment and determination; our major weakness is lack of opportunity. Team Bhutan is focused as one unit and the boys are working hard with their given resources to the best of their capacity.
MYBHUTAN: How do you predict these wins will shape the future of football in Bhutan?
DASHO: This will contribute to the confidence of our players in youth and grassroots programs. It will allow them to dream of being looked at as heroes. We in the BFF believe that a strong National team will stem from a strong youth program. Grassroots programs are essential for talent development. They create a pool of talented players for youth- and club- level competitions, and eventually national players. This is a long-term project requiring a huge investment from the Federation, the government and other stakeholders. We will concentrate on this goal and dream big, while moving ahead with small steps.
MYBHUTAN: Chencho Gyeltshen is the only professional player on the team. With these wins, will other players be following his lead?
DASHO: With the exposure from international games, we are hoping that some of the international clubs might notice the talent of our players and give them an opportunity to play.
MYBHUTAN: Since the Federation has seen a number of players leave the organization due to their need for a viable source of income, what will the Federation do to safeguard the future careers of professional football players?
DASHO: Football is still not a professional sport in Bhutan, so players cannot make a living through the game. BFF hopes that its efforts to produce quality players through its youth programs will ensure the development of football in the region and allow players to create careers with foreign clubs. We are also hopeful that eventually, corporate and private houses in Bhutan will be encouraged to offer financial support for clubs and players, thereby turning football into a professional sport.
MYBHUTAN: How has the Football Federation’s affiliation with the Bhutan Olympic Committee helped to develop the sport in Bhutan?
DASHO: Bhutan, being a third world country, has many other priorities besides football for its limited resources. Despite the BOC’s resource constraints, it has played a vital role in supporting football in Bhutan. It has backed the BFF in all of its programs and has ensured that we have the government's support in gathering young talent from remote areas and bringing these players to our training centers.
MYBHUTAN: What should the world expect from the Bhutan Football Team for this World Cup?
DASHO: A fighting spirit that never gives up