At the time of writing, the FIFA World Cup was all set to come to Bangladesh as part of Coca-Cola’s 89 country tour to bring the most coveted and recognised trophy to billions around the world who are enthralled by this tournament. Every four years the football bug reaches fever pitch in this country and as more and more people are drawn to this beautiful game, can we dream that one day, perhaps, we’ll be able to rub shoulders with the big guns at the grandest stage of them all?
Lodewijk de Kruif and Rene Koster have been officially in charge of the Bangladesh National Football team since June. Despite all the obstacles clearly evident, the Dutch duo has been tasked with the “Vision 2022” target by the Bangladesh Football Federation, i.e. to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
It’s no doubt that 9 years is a sufficient amount of time to put together a squad capable of making it to the World Cup finals in Qatar. The thing is, if Bangladesh does manage to qualify, chances are that a completely new set of players will play in the World Cup finals. Zahid Hassan Emely and captain Mamunul Islam will be pushing into their 30s when it’ll be time. Therefore it comes as no surprise that de Kruif has revamped the entire squad, bringing in more youth in the process. The current squad has an average age of only 24 and de Kruif has also made a point of recruiting those abroad, who are eligible, to play for the Bangladesh team, such as Denmark-based Jamal Bhuyan. Long story short, youth development has to be the focal point of the new regime.
For years the only platform aspiring footballers had was BKSP, which isn’t exactly a football “youth academy”. Back in 2011 BFF made its first move towards fixing that by making a deal with BKSP to use their Sylhet facilities and turn it into a proper school to develop young players. But due to the lack of funds and sponsors no actual work started — that is until 2013 when the Ministry of Finance allotted the federation Tk 1.94 crore to develop the facilities in Sylhet. Alas, the powers that be pulled the finances at the last minute back in October this year. Also BFF’s sponsorship deal with Grameenphone coming to an end leaves the BFF in unstable financial waters.
The first and foremost thing on BFF’s agenda should be to renew their deal with the telecom giant, or find new sponsors as soon as possible. The youth academy needs to be properly set up quickly, especially since BFF, with help from a FIFA Selection Panel, has a selected total of 64 players [most of whom are below the age of 14] waiting on the fringes to be the academy’s first intake of players.
Finance has always been a problem and there seems to be no reprieve in sight. Even then the BFF’s usual budget dwarfs those of most, if not all, local clubs. But that hasn’t stopped Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club from setting up their own U-19 youth academy back in March, the first of its kind in Bangladesh. If the “Big Five” of Abahni, Mohammedan, Sheikh Russel, Brothers Union, and Muktijoddha Sangsad, with all their fabled history and reputation, were to take the same initiative, the number of upcoming talent would increase significantly. After all, England solely relies on clubs to produce talent.
However, the youth academies are only the first step. We need able coaches to groom the young players at the academies. Rene Koster, assistant manager on the national level, is also head of the U-19 team, but he is only one man. After the appointment of de Kruif, two more Dutch coaches were brought in, although only for the first team. Besides developing players for 2022, Bangladesh will also have to develop coaches and coaching techniques. Sending whatever coaches the team has at its disposal right now to gain AFC Coaching Qualifications would be a step in the right direction.
Nationwide inter-school tournaments and district football are the mediums through which local clubs scout new talent for now. Some might argue that underground football has better players who are more tactically adept than their counterparts. However, underground football clearly lacks the depth that these nationwide tournaments offer when it comes to strength, stamina, and most evidently, in numbers. District football works as the middleman between players and the BFF, working like the American “Drafts”.
Can it be done? Just look at Germany. Thirteen years ago German football was at its absolute lowest when they were humiliated at Euro 2000. Now, it’s at its peak reaping the rewards of the initiatives the DFB took a decade ago. The DFB scoured the globe for the best techniques and methods to develop players prior to that disastrous tournament, and now they boast not only one of the best youth setups in the world but also one of the best national teams and football leagues. Just look at last season’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Not only were both teams German, the DFB also proudly reports that 26 of those players are home-grown and eligible to play for Germany. More than half of those players came through the DFB’s talent development programme, which was introduced in 2003 with the aim of identifying youngsters with potential and providing them with tactical knowledge and technical skills. The programme is headed by over 1000 DFB part-time coaches, all of whom have UEFA B License and are tasked with both training and scouting new players. The programme has youngsters already tied with professional clubs as well as kids who just play for their Sunday league teams. It offers Bundesliga clubs to spot new players.
Although we meet the problem of lack of funding again, I believe in 10 years Bangladesh can put together a decent setup to get a team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Germany and Bangladesh are miles apart, even when they were rock bottom in 2000. But if Germany can create enough players to take the entirety of Europe by storm in a mere ten years, I have a feeling Bangladesh can string together a good enough squad to defeat the other Asian countries in 9 years with proper financial backing. The Dutch coaching is doing all that it can on its shoe string budget and that in itself is a lot. As I’m writing this a 19 year old Bangladeshi has just returned from a trial at FC Twente, arguably the second biggest club in the Netherlands, and this is only the beginning.
PHOTO: STAR & BFF