In their first appearance in top-flight football in 2003-04 season, Sheikh Russel stunned traditional powerhouses like Abahani, Mohammedan and Muktijoddha Sangsad to finish second in the now defunct Premier Division Football League. But since then the Uttara-based outfit have been very inconsistent, so much so that they finished fifth in the 11-team Bangladesh Premier League last season. However, this time around they have turned the table by emerging champions in the season's curtain-raising tournament Federation Cup.
The first silverware was not a fluke for Sheikh Russel KC, who formed the best side on paper and demonstrated some dazzling performances on way to Cup victory, under coach Maruful Haque. Now they have set their sights on the coveted title of the Bangladesh Premier League, which begins on Tuesday.
Winning the premier domestic competition will not be an easy job as they will have to vie with four-time champions and holders Ahahani, former champions Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club and a spirited Mohammedan in the long run of 16 matches.
Nevertheless Sheikh Russel are getting enough inspiration from their recent triumph which saw them battle till the last moment to salvage victory. Sheikh Russel went one goal down before coming back to beat Mohammedan in the semifinal and repeated the same feat in the final against Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi and these come-from-behind experiences give them the extra confidence ahead of the league.
Coach Maruful Haque is trying to inject a belief among the players that they are the best players in their position and with a collective effort they can beat anyone and win the league like they did in the Federation Cup.
Maruful has a strong cache of national players including playmaker Mamunul Islam, inspirational winger Zahid Hossain, on-song striker Zahid Hasan, promising defenders Linkon, Mamun Mia and Rezaul Karim apart from three quality recruits in Haitian Sony Norde, Moroccans Aboukacem and Tarik El Janabi.
Sheikh Russel have an equally impressive reserve bench which includes the likes of national strikers Mithun Chowdhury, Anwar Hossain, midfielders Emon Babu, Rajon Mia, defender
Uttam Kumar and goalkeeper Nehal while foreign recruits Moroccan midfielder Tarik Marzouk, defenders Abbas Inusah and Bojan Petric of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Maruful's possession football in the Federation Cup saw Sheikh Russel ease through the three group phase matches where the forwards found the target 13 times. However, they struggled in the knock-out phase. They also conceded early goals against Mohammedan and Sheikh Jamal due to lapses in the backline before bouncing back and their main worry lies in the stopper position.
“Everything is all right except the stopper position which is still our concern,” said assistant coach Humayun Kabir in the absence of head coach Maruful, who went to the United Kingdom to participate in a UEFA coaching course.
“We do have a stopper from Bosnia but we are waiting for Moroccan Abbas Inusah. The problem will be solved as soon as he arrives,” said Kabir adding that the head coach also worked on the striking zone to sharpen the forwards' finishing.
Sheikh Russel also have a worry in the right-back position as they will have to play second-choice Murad or third-choice Aminul while first-choice national back Nasirul Islam recovers from an injury which is expected to keep him out of play in the first phase.
The coach is also working on set-pieces with Zahid Hasan Emily, Mamunul Islam and Zahid Hossain. The latter will however miss the first two league matches, against Team BJMC and Mohammedan, due to suspension.
Goalkeepers: Biplob, Nehal, Tuwan.
Defenders: Aminul, Uttam, Reza, Mamun Mia, Nasir, Linkon, Murad, Bappi, Tanvir, Inusah, Bojan, Rodrigues.
Midfielders: Zahid, Mamunul, Emon, Rajon,. Sumon, Emu, El Janaby, Sony Norde.
Strikers: Emily, Mithun, Anwar, Sohel, Aboukacem, Tarik Marzouk.