The semi-final of the AFC President's Cup last week was Upendra Man Singh's last game as a national football player. The 32-year-old captain and goalkeeper of this year's Nepal league champion, Three Star Club, has now hung his boots and plans to be Nepal's first goalkeeping coach. He spoke to Nepali Times about being a professional sportsman in Nepal.
Nepali Times: The semi-final was a disappointment.
Upendra Man Singh: We were unlucky. We did our best but it wasn't good enough. After the game was over, we watched our video. We had our weaknesses and if had been able to address them, we might have won but then it was a game, you either win or you lose. We did win the fair play award though. Also, the crowd really cheered us on and I think we played better than expected.
What were those weaknesses you noticed in the video?
We need to improve in the striking zone. In the whole tournament we made only three goals and that's not so great. We missed really good chances. Also a few of the players weren't feeling that well- Suren had a knee injury and some were suffering from food poisoning and ankle problems. But really, we played better than expected.
What did you think of the penalty shootout on Saturday?
The game closed on a draw and we knew that our future hung on those penalty shots. The first time I missed Kyrgyzstan's penalty shot, the ball had slightly grazed my finger and slipped away. My heart sank and I had this dreadful feeling that we were down on our luck. The second time, I didn't know what would happen but I managed to save it, making things equal. But then I missed the third again and we knew we had lost. After that we had no hope. It was one of the saddest moments of my life.
How did you cope with the defeat?
Well, I felt really depressed. I just sat there for a while and watched the Kyrgyz team do victory laps. Around 20,000 people had come to cheer and support us, many more were watching us on tv. They would have had been ecstatic if we had won. We did all we could but still felt like we had let everybody down. The club could really have used the money because they invested a lot in the players.
But don't you think club football in Nepal has come of age?
Yes, it is now possible to make a living as a professional football player. Clubs pay around Rs 5,000 to Rs 12,000 a month, depending on a player's ability. Three Star and Manang Marsyangdi really invest in their clubs and they have some of the best players. Every year you get to either renew your contract (if you are good enough) or join another club.
What about corporate sponsorships?
That's picking up too. Adidas sponsored us with Rs 500,000 and Mayos gave Rs 250,000. Three Star Club is from Lalitpur and many individuals helped us financially. We had tremendous support and it helped us play better.
What does it take to make it as a professional football player in Nepal?
A lot of discipline, hard work and sincere training. I got it easy really and my family supported me through it all. Directly after SLC, I made it to the U-16 team and then straight to the national team. I was studying civil engineering but had to drop out. Soon I was playing for clubs in Bangkok, Bangladesh and India. It was quite something because I had never dreamed of being a professional football player. All it takes is a lot of determination and the courage to follow your dream.