Stefanowski aims high with Nepal
Football coaches are not regular exports from the United States, but recently they can pride themselves on a rare exception, with Poland-born New Yorker Jack Stefanowski leaving for Nepal to take up the reigns of their national team.
Having managed a series of college and professional teams in the US and overseeing Puerto Rico in 2008, Stefanowski arrived in to fill the void left by former Tottenham Hotspur defender Graham Roberts. For the 37-year-old, his new job in charge of the mountainous country presents him with not only opportunities but also challenges.
"It's great to continue working at national team level," the former Long Island Rough Riders coach told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview, "I hope to raise the standard of football here, and I look forward to developing Nepalese football."
Top on his priority list, of course, is to prepare the team for this March's 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifying campaign, where Nepal act as hosts.
The previous edition saw the South Asians, under Roberts, finish ahead of the likes of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to book their place in the final competition. The promising start, however, turned to disappointment as they finished last. The performance cost Roberts his job.
With the Nepalese seeking to redeem themselves on the continental front this time around, Stefanowski is all too aware that he has a mission to fulfil. He said: "Our first target is to finish top in the group and qualify for the finals."
Awaiting them in qualifying are none other than Palestine, who ran out 2-0 winners during their previous meeting in last March's Challenge Cup finals. Fellow regional rivals Bangladesh and an enigmatic Northern Mariana Islands complete the group line-up, with Stefanowski aware of the threat each side will pose.
"Palestine will be a tougher opponent for us," he said. "They have improved their level of football over the last couple of years. Bangladesh will be more of an emotional rival while Northern Mariana Islands will be a surprise since they are newcomers. We will have to prepare for all matches with consistency."
With less than two months to prepare his team ahead of the qualification campaign, Stefanowski opted to start his work with reshuffling the team, coming up with a 50-man squad from which they can take stock of the side.
"Richard Orlowski, my assistant coach and I believe there needs to be a shake-up within the team to begin a new journey in the next qualifying campaign,” he continued. “It gives us a chance to continue evaluating players and pick the best ones that will match the strategy that we want to implement.”
Having said that, Stefanowski is in no doubt that experience is key in the make-up of the team. "I expect veteran players like Sagar Thapa and Ju Manu Rai to set examples for the younger players and to instill the culture of the team that I believe will make them successful in future competitions,” he said.
Nepal have showed a lack of goalscoring ability in recent competitions, having scored just one goal in their last two campaings.
"Finishing is what we must improve first," he said., "However, we have a plan in place to build the team step by step which includes defensive as well as attacking aspects of the team's play."
Adding to the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying, is this September's South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Nepal where the hosts are expecting to improve on their third-place finish in 1996. Despite the hard task facing him, Stefanowski voiced his confidence of taking Nepal to a higher level.
"I think anywhere you go in football, there is a challenge," he concluded with a note of determination "I believe there is always a higher standard to reach for and I hope to bring Nepalese football closer to the global standard which is predominant in Europe and South America."