Tuesday 31 May 2022, 06:00

New academy offers fresh opportunities in the Land of the Thunder Dragon

  • Bhutan Football Federation recently opened their new Changjiji Football Academy for Boys

  • The FIFA Forward project is the latest facility aimed at upgrading the nation's footballing infrastructure

  • Bhutan captain and BFF President hail FIFA's consistent support

With the goal of 'making football truly global', FIFA has provided an enhanced level of development support to its 211 Member Associations over recent years. The latest nation to benefit has been Bhutan with the completion of a modern new football academy. Located in Thimphu, capital of the Himalayan country known affectionately as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, the new Changjiji Football Academy complements the previous facility, also funded by FIFA in 2003, and belongs to a series of FIFA Forward projects from the first cycle (1.0) which also includes facilities at the Girls' football academy at Gelephu, floodlight and four artificial turfs. Both the Boys’ Academy at Changjiji and the Girls' Academy at Gelephu are operational, and the construction of a fourth artificial turf will be completed soon. Aimed at upgrading the country's footballing infrastructures and facilities, the projects are expected to lift the country's game to a new level, prospects fuelling BFF (Bhutan Football Federation) President Ugen Tsechup with new ambitions. "It is a landmark achievement for Bhutan Football Federation," he said at Monday's opening ceremony of the new Changjiji Football Academy. "It is a small but important step towards building a world class centre of excellence for footballers. "Development of infrastructure has played a vital role in shaping the football scenario in Bhutan. And we are very much thankful to FIFA for the enormous support and guiding us on the right path."

A front view of the Changjiji Football Academy in Bhutan

First football school in Bhutan

With FIFA's help, the new Changjiji Football Academy possesses all the elements required in a modern academy. Among some of the new facilities are an academic building, gymnasium and boarding facilities for trainees. The BFF wasted no time in utilising the facilities by launching the country's first-ever football school in April, allowing young footballers to train and play while continuing their school studies in-house. This opens up a new avenue for young players to focus on football without missing important elements of their education. It also demonstrates that the BFF have an emphasis on not just developing good footballers. but responsible citizens as well. A similar program for female students is currently being prepared in Gelephu. “The facilities are being best used for grassroots and youth development, which is one of the top priorities for Bhutan Football,” added Tsechup. "As of now we are using the facilities to the optimal level.”

A side view of the Changjiji Football Academy in Bhutan

Former beneficiary pays tribute

Also paying tribute to the new academy is Bhutan captain Chencho Gyeltshen, a notable beneficiary of the previous FIFA-funded academy. Recruited to that academy in 2006, Gyeltshen spent four years cutting his teeth there before developing into one of the country's top stars. "I am proud of being a graduate of the [FIFA-funded] Academy,” said the 26-year-old, the country’s all-time top international scorer who has scored ten goals from 37 appearances, including striking four times in Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. “I would give it ten out of ten if I am asked for my rating of my experience, because it has held so many memories in my life and I learned so much there. "Before [in the old academy] it was tough for us as we had to struggle to commute back and forth from school and training ground,” he said. “With the facilities in the new academy, now the young players don't bother with such difficulties and they can focus all their attention on football and education. "I would like to thank FIFA for helping and developing football in Bhutan. Upgrading all these grounds and academies has boosted so much passion and hopes in our youths that they can strive to be professional footballers as well."

Indeed, the old FIFA-funded academy has played a key role in nurturing generations of the country's football talents, with over 700 of its players having represented Bhutan at different age levels. This figure is all the more significant considering the country's population of just over 700,000. With that in mind, Tsechup has high hopes for the new Changjiji Football Academy. "With international standards, facilities and infrastructures we hope that we will perform well in the international arena in all categories and win some trophies.”