Maldini-inspired Chand eyes new heights with Nepal
Rohit Chand is the second most-capped player of the current Nepal squad
Based at Indonesia giants Persija Jakarta, he is one of few overseas-based Nepalese
Chand is hoping for improved performances in remaining Qatar 2022 qualifiers
Stop any Nepalese fan to ask him who the national team's most established star is and the answer will almost certainly be Rohit Chand.
Chand, deployed either as a central defender or a deep-lying midfielder, has been a key figure throughout their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ qualifying campaign thus far. With 63 international appearances across 11 years, he is the second most-capped player in the current Nepal squad, second only to goalkeeper and captain Kiran Chemjong.
And he is among the national team's few overseas-based stars, currently plying his trade with Indonesia giants Persija Jakarta. An accomplished footballer though he may be, Chand began his sporting career as a cricket player.
Hailing from the sport-mad village of Surkhet, Chand was involved in multiple sports but his top interest was cricket, representing his village in regional cricket tournaments. Influenced by his brother Rabin, however, Chand started playing football. Chand made such progress that he was chosen to represent his region in a national football tournament. That proved a turning point when he was spotted by coaches from the ANFA Academy - a national youth project supported by FIFA.
Chand was offered a trial with the ANFA Academy and, as if to test his passion for the game, he failed to make to the U-14 national youth team. That disappointment, however, only served to whet his appetite for greater progress.
"That failure was all that I needed to get motivated to work harder," the 28-year-old told FIFA.com. "If you really love the game, then there is commitment. And the next year I made the [national youth] team."
Soon enough Chand made his international debut in a goalless draw against Palestine in March, 2009, becoming the then youngest Nepalese to play for the senior national team at the age of just 16 years and 22 days. The record was subsequently broken by Bimal Magar in 2012 when he played for the senior side against Bangladesh at the age of 14.
In 2011, as a teenager, Chand played in his first World Cup qualifying campaign, playing a key role at the back as Nepal gained a credible 1-1 second-round draw against Jordan on the road to Brazil 2014. The same year also saw his emergence on the domestic scene after captaining Machhindra FC to the semi-finals of the British Gurkha Cup, performances which earned him that season's Defender of the Year award.
Such performances didn't go unnoticed by European clubs and he was on the verge of signing for Kettering Town FC but missed the opportunity due to visa reasons.
"Now at this age I am not eyeing any hope of playing in Europe," he said, lamenting those missed opportunities. "For a long time I had harboured hopes of moving to Europe but now it looks less likely. European clubs focus on upbringing youth talents."
In a sense, Chand made up for the near-miss by joining India giants HAL SC before trying his luck in Indonesia and joining Persija in 2013. He impressed in his first season and was nominated for the Youth Player of the Year award.
Chand peaked when he returned to Jakarta for his second spell with Persija in 2017, winning the league and cup double the following year and was named the Indonesia league season's Most Valued Player.
“I feel my skills have improved and my play has reached a better level,” he said in reference to the progress made with Persija. “I owed my thanks to the club’s managerial team for the faith in me.”
Inspired by Maldini
Now Chand has established himself as a role-model figure with club and country, both on and off the pitch. While it is largely down to his hard work over the past two decades, he was quick to pay tribute to his childhood idol Paolo Maldini from whom he has drawn consistent inspiration.
“Maldini was my idol when I was a kid,” he said of the former Italy and AC Milan defender. “And he remains an idol and inspiration to me today. For me, he is more than just one of the best defenders the world has seen. Adding to that, his great personality, leadership and consistency in his performances were all things I grew up looking to.”
With a single win from five outings - a 2-0 victory over Chinese Taipei in Asia’s second round of qualifying for Qatar 2022 - Nepal are languishing second from the bottom in a challenging Group B which also features Australia, Jordan and Kuwait. While a place in the next round may be beyond their grasp, Chand is seeking incremental improvement from the Gorkhalis when the campaign resumes next year.
“Firstly we need to cope with the impact from COVID-19. Then we have to focus on the remaining games. Australia and Jordan are both very strong and even Chinese Taipei are a team that we can’t afford to underestimate.
“It is every player’s dream to go to the World Cup. But [in order to achieve that goal], we need to prepare ourselves by doing firstly well in the SAFF Championship and Asian Cup.”