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|Volume 11 |Issue 05| February 03, 2012 ||
The Rise of Sheikh Jamal
As the clock struck the 90th minute, a strong crowd of 7000 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, who for most part of the match were sitting at the edge of their seats, erupted in joy as Towhidul Alam's last-minute header gave the newly-formed Sheikh Jamal outfit their maiden Federation Cup title last Tuesday.
The Dhanmondi-based team became the fifth ever club in the history of the tournament to have won the title, which has otherwise been dominated by traditional powerhouses such as Abahani, Mohammedan and Muktijuddha. Perhaps what makes this victory even more special is that it came at a time when the club had been suffering on multiple grounds. In addition to losing ten vital players during last year's transfer period, the club was also bogged down with match-fixing accusations throughout the year. “We decided to forget everything and start all over again,” says Saiful Bari Titu, coach of the club.
Things looked ominous for Aminul Haque and co as last October he led a young team with only three national players towards the registration counter. With 10 of their top-notch players moving to Abahani and Muktijoddha, it seemed like the reigning Bangladeshi football league champions wouldn't stand a chance this season. “We decided not to play with too many national players and just stick to the players that fit our plan,” claims the captain of the club, Aminul Haque. Journalists and football pundits predicted the demise of the one-year-old club. The coach and the club officials however, had other plans in mind. “Although we weren't the strongest team of the Federation Cup on paper, I believe that at the end of the day it all depends on how well you play on the field,” says Titu.
With an aim to hold on to the championship, the club followed a detailed preparatory schedule and unlike other clubs started training from as early as September. As part of their preparation, the club travelled all the way to Nepal to participate in the Safal Pokhra Cup, a tournament which they ended up winning. “Winning the tournament in Nepal helped us boost our confidence. Initially we thought the tournament wasn't going to be that difficult, however when we went there we saw the participation of clubs from India as well which made it quite competitive,” says Haque.
It all seemed worth it when Sheikh Jamal knocked out perennial favourites Abahani in the quarter finals of the tournament after a thrilling contest that went all the way down to the wire. It was sweet revenge for the Dhanmondi-based outfit after Abahani, along with Muktijoddha had plotted a coup of a sort by buying out half of Sheikh Jamal's side last year. Explaining the different strategies used in the match, Titu claims that he had used the 4-5-1 formation as opposed to the regular 4-4-2 line-up. “It was a good option because the presence of five midfield players on the field allowed us to play freely upfront and also kept a tight defense at the same time,” says Titu.
The importance of a strong foreign line-up, according to the coach, was also a vital factor behind their good run. Players like Assogba Allen and and Kester Akon, both from Nigeria, played an important role behind the team's victory with regular contributions in the goals column. “Foreign players did play an important role, however, football is a team game and to win this tournament we needed both the local and international players to play outstanding football and that's what happened,” says Titu, referring to the absence of their star striker Assogba Allen in the final match of the tournament.
Despite the attractive display of football brought about by foreign players, Haque feels that the Bangladesh Football Federation should put more restrictions on the number of foreign players playing in competitions. “The top four goal scorers of this tournament were foreigners, how will this help national team?” exclaims the veteran goalkeeper.
Having aced the Federation Cup, Sheikh Jamal have started their season in the best possible way and will be looking forward to retain their title in the Bangladesh Premier League. However, with the general performance of clubs, such as BJMC, on the rise and the traditional favourites, Abahani and Muktijuddha, always in the hunt for the championship trophy, the league is bound to be a lot more competitive this year. “A league is a lot more complicated than a tournament. It's much longer. We have to worry about injuries and therefore have to train the players accordingly,” says a cautious Titu. Haque, on the other hand, is quite confident about his team's performance this year. “There are many good sides in the league but we plan to win it this time. We are confident. We won it the last time and can do the same this time.”
By winning the Federation Cup, Sheikh Jamal has beckoned a new era in Bangladeshi football. By winning it with few national players, the club has proved that with proper training and preparation any team can successfully compete in the Championship and that the presence of 'star players' don't necessarily matter. One hopes that other clubs can take a cue from the Dhanmondi-based team and concentrate on training rather than on buying high-valued players.
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