Eight seasons in for MNL, three teams drop out
IT was a great season for the Myanmar National League, but for three teams it was also the last. With eight seasons under its belt, the MNL will see its ranks contract, as Zwekapin United, Zeyar Shwe Myay and Manaw Myay announced that that they will close up shop before the start of next season.
The Myanmar National League launched in 2009 with eight teams, its ranks increasing with the additions of Zwekapin United, Rakhine United, Nay Pyi Taw FC and Manaw Myay in 2010. A second-tier league was launched in 2013, bringing Myanmar’s total to 24 professional football clubs.
But the expansion tide may now be ebbing in Myanmar’s domestic football league, which primarily primarily on private businesses and moguls to self-fund regional teams.
Zwekapin United FC, which represents Kayin State but plays at home in Yangon, declared their intention to drop out of professional competition on August 22, but announced that they will continue to operate their youth football academy.
“Our team was founded in 2010 and we’ve competed at the highest level in the MNL, but we will not be able to continue next season. With regard to our players, we’ll resolve any outstanding contracts,” said U Hla Htay, the team’s owner.
Zwekapin, which did not specify a reason for their termination, has not seen a landmark success since its founding in 2010 in either the MNL regular season, or in one of Myanmar’s knockout cups.
“We have not fielded a lot of national team players; currently, only one Zwekapin player is on the national squad. And the national team hasn’t been very successful in international competitions, even though we spend a lot of money on player development,” U Hla Htay said, “I joined the MNL to help improve our national team, but we haven’t seen the kind of success we anticipated. But we’ll continue to work with the Zwekapin United youth academy to help train the next generation of football players,” he added.
Sagaing-based Zeyar Shwe Myay will drop out of the MNL, but for a different reason – they may no longer have a place to play.
Zeyar Shwe Myay has hosted their home games at Monywa Stadium since 2009 – they were one of the few MNL teams to play at home in their own state or region. But the Sagaing Region Hluttaw recently passed a proposal from MP Daw Aung Kyi (Monywa 2; NLD) to return the stadium to public ownership – and evict the town’s team.
The stadium, which is owned by the government, was rented to the team on a 30-year contract through the MFF. It is not an typical arrangement: Nay Pyi Taw FC plays at Paung Laung Stadium, on a field build by public volunteers, who are now also calling for its return.
But the loss their playing field – and the crucial revenues from concessions stands, which financed the team’s annual lease payments – was too much to underwrite, and Zeyar Shwe Myay’s ownership announced the team’s withdrawal on August 26.
“We can’t predict what will happen, or confirm whether our team will ever compete again in the MNL or not. But our ownership is certain that we cannot under the current circumstances. We’ve invested a lot of money on the team – around K800 million each year – and now we’re not sure if we can keep going,” Zeyar Shwe Myay general manager U Thein Aung told The Myanmar Times.
Perhaps the most surprising loss is Manaw Myay. The 2016 MNL-2 season champions, Manaw Myay is closing up shop on the eve of their promotion back to MNL-1. The team has not declared an official reason for retiring, and officials did not respond to questions posed by The Myanmar Times.
Officials from the Myanmar Football federation, the sport’s governing body, acknowledged that the loss of three teams will have wide-ranging ramifications, from regional player development to scheduling the next season.
An MFF official confirmed that the Federation is planning on a regular, 12-team 2017 MNL season, meaning as many as four MNL-2 squads could be graced with promotion to the top-tier. But as the fate of their former rivals shows, they’ll need deep pockets as well as fast breaks to stay for good.
Manaw Myay FC players rest after a pre-match practice on August 5. The team beat Silver Stars, 2-0, on August 7.