“I am emotional but happy. You have done a lot and achieved a lot. You are an inspiration for many including me. I am always proud of you. Your fan forever.”
Bidhya Shrestha, the sister of Bishal Shrestha, posted this on her social media after he announced his retirement from international football on December 22 during the post-match conference after a match between FC Chitwan and Jhapa FC during the Nepal Super League 2023.
Since then, the goalkeeper has been receiving an outpouring of messages and wishes from family, friends, and fans. He had never anticipated that his retirement would generate such a buzz within the football fraternity and media.
Bishal Shrestha, who had informally retired after not playing a single game during the 2023 SAFF Championship, decided to formally announce it during the post-match conference which took many by surprise.
“Everything has a perfect time and I thought that day was perfect to announce retirement,” says Shrestha.
Playing the waiting game
Bishal Shrestha has been part of the national football since 2011 but the 31-year-old has hardly played. His only appearance for the national team came in 2021 when he came on as a substitute in the 85th minute against India replacing captain Kiran Kumar Limbu. Despite it being a brief cameo, he fondly reminisces about that match as the highlight of his footballing career.
“Every boy dreams of playing for the national team and I will forever be thankful to Abdullah Almutairi for sending me in despite Nepal losing 2-0 to India. Those 10 minutes will be with me forever,” says Shrestha.
Bishal Shrestha hoped that after that game, more opportunities would come his way, but unfortunately, that has not been the case as he has not played a minute for Nepal since. Recognising the challenges faced by backup goalkeepers, he acknowledges that second-choice goalkeepers often receive fewer chances, and he is no exception to this reality.
“Being a goalkeeper is tough in the world of football. If there is one goalkeeper better than us, that’s game over for us most times,” says Shrestha.
The course of events could have taken a different turn if Bishal Shrestha had not been injured in 2012. Given that most first-choice goalkeepers were injured during the Nehru Cup in India, there was a significant chance that he could have played. However, the injury delayed his journey to the national team by a year or two.
“It is what it is. Luck also plays an important role,” he says.
Consistently being second or third in line was demotivating for him. However, his love for the game and his patience acted as enduring sources of motivation, enabling him to stay with the national team and remain hopeful. Furthermore, he received significant support from his family members.
“I am happy with whatever I have been able to do for the national team,” says Shrestha.
Bishal Shrestha, who nurtured dreams of representing the national team since childhood, looks back at his time with the national squad as a moment filled with pride and happiness. Reflecting on his experiences, he shares a deep connection with the national team.
“I will miss every aspect—the camaraderie in the dressing room, the journeys with teammates, and the intensity of matches,” says Shrestha.
Despite not having the opportunity to play many games for the national team, Bishal Shrestha has been impressive in the A Division League.
In the Martyr’s Memorial A Division League in 2022, he achieved an impressive record of keeping 11 clean sheets, going over a thousand minutes without conceding a goal. In recognition of his outstanding performance, he was named the best goalkeeper of the league that year as he conceded only two goals in 13 matches.
He played a crucial role in Machhindra Football Club winning a title without losing a single game. In the 2020 season, he also had an outstanding performance, losing only one game as Machhindra secured another league title.
In total, Bishal Shrestha has clinched four league titles, securing two with Manang Marshyangdi Club and two with Machhindra Football Club since his debut in the A Division League in 2009.
Similarly, Shrestha has also participated in both editions of the Nepal Super League. In the first edition, he played for Butwal-Lumbini Football Club, and in the second edition, he was captain and the marquee player for Football Club Chitwan.
During the conversation with Onlinekhabar, Shrestha also highlighted the significance of goalkeepers in football. He pointed out that people often do not credit goalkeepers for victories, but they play a crucial role, handling 50 per cent of the game.
“Goalie is a captain without an armband,” he says. “It is a fun and difficult position in football.”
Even though Shrestha is no longer part of the national team, he remains equally concerned about the state of Nepali football as he was before.
He is worried as footballers continue to leave the country and has said he will stay in Nepal and try to contribute to football in whatever way possible.
“I hope football gets more priority so that this exodus stops and I too can continue playing the sport I love,” says Shrestha.
To improve the sport, Shrestha urges the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) to establish a proper calendar for the leagues and strive to host games regularly.
“Players will only feel secure staying in the country if there are more games scheduled, providing them with consistent opportunities,” he says.