Football Under Spotlight
Time for part-timers is over
Although Bangladesh won a four-nation international invitational football tournament in Myanmar in 1995, their triumph four years later in the SAF Games football competition in Kathmandu will go down in history as the nation's first major success. The gold medal, which came after a 1-0 win over hosts Nepal in a breathtaking final, put an end to millions of fans' wait for glory in regional football.
Things, however, did not begin the right way for Bangladesh who stumbled in the group phase and just made the semifinals even without a win. No one was confident that the national team, at their lowest ebb after being unhappy about the team management, would go on to outwit mighty India in the semis and beat the stubborn Nepalese to hold aloft the red and green. Those who were present still believe that one man, former Bangladesh captain and then a football federation official Badal Roy, inspired the booters to turn into a fighting unit from mere travellers. Much has been written about his sudden visit to cheer up the boys but six years after the incident, Badal Roy -- a great motivator -- tells his side of the story. He also brings out the pros and cons of being a footballer and an organiser.
Winning the SAF Games title was a big achievement for Bangladesh. Many have termed it as 'dream coming true'. Not me, because I believe we deserved to win it long before, especially if you consider the football culture of this sub-continent. India are obviously above us among the other teams of the region but we should have won it before the others, especially after reaching the final so often. In my playing days, the national team was stronger, may be even better than the side that won the title in 1999.
When the SAF Games were introduced in 1985, it should have been us. I still hold the management responsible. We were victims of club politics. The management was more interested to serve club purpose and as a result, we lost the final to Nepal 4-2 even after thrashing the home side by five goals in the group stage. Afterwards nobody thought that it would take us so long to win a trophy. The delay has cost us dearly because people have turned down from the game due to lack of success.
In 1993 when we hosted the SAF Games, the scene was worse. The side that drew with Maldives and lost to Nepal at home was one of our best. We had a lot of individual talent and the teamwork was superb. Maldives was team which even would concede 7-8 goals to any of our top club teams. Nepal was also a relatively weak team and most of their top footballers' exposure was in our league they included star player Ganesh Thapa. We also had an extensive preparation under a renowned coach (Oldrich Swab). Probably that was the first time logistic support was more than adequate and even the media was critical for the methods we employed. That single failure spoiled the whole party because the whole nation was banking on the football team.
I think it was also a result of weak management and it was crudely exposed after that tournament.
When we sent the team to the Kathmandu SAF Games we had hopes but did not place the team very highly. Nepal were naturally hot favourites as hosts and Baichung Buhtia's India were on top form. Two years earlier, we were outplayed by Baichung in the SAFF Championship also in Nepal. We had undertaken preparation on much smaller scale. But I wouldn't say that our preparation was poor. We had trouble about staging the league and there was a tug of war about the ground.
Results only come when you organise things overall and properly. You have to have a proper management to take care of things. I consider myself lucky because I had climbed to the peak of my playing career at Mohammedan and still I'm involved with them. But I have the courage to say that the sincerity the players had shown for their clubs, was never there for the national team. Either we did not get the chance to be sincere, or we just were not giving our best. Why? Players are not the only guilty party. I think there was not a management good enough to bring the best out of us. All through, we lacked a solid management.
In 1999, the players were naturally demoralised after a shock defeat to Maldives and the draw with Sri Lanka. Redemption was really difficult. After all these, we got the chance to play in the semis and the top BFF officials, Harun bhai (general secretary), Bachchu bhai, Kashem bhai, Rahim bhai, called me that night to the federation. I was out of Dhaka but when I came, some requested me and some ordered me to fly to Kathmandu immediately. I don't know why they relied on me but I feel that whenever I was part of a team management, I had the confidence in me. I knew how to handle my players. However, the confidence was not much when I left Dhaka. I never thought that my mission would be to turn the losers into champions. All my thoughts in my mind were on how to encourage the team to fight. I only hoped that the footballers would be inspired and try their best.
I was not officially entrusted with any duty. I rather made the trip as a federation official and an ex-player. When I reached Kathmandu, I saw a team divided three-ways: the players, the officials and coach Samir Shakir. Each part was alienated from the others. My first priority was to tie the pieces together. I talked to Samir first. He was a great footballer and one of the best to play in our country. So his expectations were naturally high. However, he could not take it that a team trained by a World Cupper would play this bad. Frustrated, he told me about the failures of the management.
The reasons that created the distance between the players and the officials seemed silly. The players had some simple demands. The management failed to fulfil that. While representing a nation, how could the management be so ignorant?
I had a very good relationship with Samir and I tried to convince him to start afresh. Not only we had played against each other but also had good times together. My request to him was as player-to-player; I told him that with his help, I could try to restore the players' spirit. My effort was also to calm him because I felt how a coach would react after losing to a team like Maldives. Our team was not that bad and we just wanted that they play up to their potential against India. There was no use trying to find the reasons and blaming people. I think I proved a point and for the first time, I saw the Iraqi defender smile after my arrival.
Then I went to the manager (Abdul Gaffar) and assistant manager (Jahangir). I was accompanied by Shawkat Hossain Jahangir, who also has the experience of running a top club in Dhaka. The officials were complaining about many needs. I reminded them that with the whole Games not going well, football was the only discipline left that could have saved us.
"I am not saying that you make the team champions but to play well, let's do what we need to do," was all I told them before going to the players. I went to their rooms to talk with every one individually.
I promised that I would try everything possible to make them happy and it took me just one dinner, full of Bangladeshi dishes, to pacify them. We had long chats afterwards and I got the confidence that they were relaxing. All they wanted from the management was some attention and I felt that the management was not sincere even to realise it.
One thing I must say here is about selection of the management. Not only now but in the past, the federation has been wrong selecting the men to lead. Many think that these posts, we usually select four or five to travel with a team, are for only touring. Actually, the management is like guardian of the team. If the players can not adjust with the officials, if they don't see reflection of the country's image in the leaders or can't consider them as head of the family, it never works.
Some officials, concerned about their so-called prestige, keep so much distance with the players that the gap can not be bridged on most occasions. When we were at the federation, we came to realise that the management should be fixed for certain periods for the national team as well as age-group teams. We started to implement the idea but this angered many federation officials because they felt they lost the right to tour abroad. My request is that any organiser with such mentality should not come to the federation. It is not only bad for federation but also for the game.
If a manager has to motivate the whole squad -- at least 20 players -- he has to be sincere. If not the best, a player is expected produce the performance he had been picked for the national team. We hardly have got that. The management's job is to motivate the team to do that. It must also realise that any better team can win against us but why should we play below our capacity when all the players are professional and paid for their performance? We know that we cannot give them much for playing for the national team but the club pays more to national players. Isn't it worth for their commitment?
I have also seen often that after the final selection of the team and management, both the parties show their indifference. It seems that being selecting is their final destination. Nobody then cares much for performance. Here, the federation's duty is to keep the management strict. Everything here is vice-versa. The management should be involved from the start of the preparation and try to build a family from the first day of the camp.
Back to the Nepal saga and I just wanted to bring harmony to a torn family. I requested to the players' conscience to fight against India and show their real performance. I told them that if Bangladesh was not born, you would have not come this far. So, it is your chance to repay a debt to your country. I have realised from my experience as manager that the management is as responsible as the players to bring result.
I understood the players very well. Perhaps this was the reason I managed to lift their spirit and they accepted me as a guardian.
They fought back and proved that as a whole team, they were not to be underestimated. What we could not do in our times was achieved by a team that were morally down at the start. They united under Samir Shakir and the leadership of Jewel Rana. I also tried to involve senior players like Alfaz and Masud Rana. In their presence, Samir explained his strategy for the India match. It was really inspiring and there was no way we could suffer a disaster if the players could stick to the instructions. He gave specific duties to every one and they gave their efforts to follow them.
India took us for the definite underdogs and were in for a surprise from the first minute. They never thought an untidy team like Bangladesh could bounce back like that. And we got the piece of luck we needed to win a tight match like that: A spectacular goal from (Shahajuddin) Tipu. Alfaz, who I think is not far behind Baichung in talent and skill, was at his expected best. He also scored the match winner in the final and the confidence the team got, inspired the defence and goalkeeper Biplab, who was extra-ordinary, hang on under tremendous pressure from Nepal in the last half hour.
One of the main reasons behind our failure in football or any sport is the break of continuation. I have come this far through a lot of hardship. I have played for club, I have been manager there and finally, I got a position in the federation. I have also gathered experience while attending different programmes of FIFA and AFC. But I was not given the time to use my expertise.
Not only me, other qualified people have also been denied from doing this. The reason is political. But no one wants to realise that there is no alternative of having experienced people while running organisations. These are the reasons why a respected person like Kazi Salahuddin was humiliated in an executive committee meeting of the federation.
Many may raise questions that why only a few people should run the job for long. But look at others. How long Joao Havellange had been there for FIFA or Peter Velappan at the AFC? People like Priyaranjan Das Munshi, Monilal Fernando or Ganesh Thapa have been doing it for their countries for long periods in this region. They have reached a stage but every time people see different faces from Bangladesh. People make fun of us. We have to start things all over again. Also, if the organisers know that they would be removed as soon as the political scene was changed, no one would be interested to go for long-term plans and try to implement them. They would rather try to enjoy their stint.
So, only football related and football concerned people who are also qualified, should take care of the game. They should make the policy and let the business be run by a professional management. The days of part-timers and outsiders are over. If they keep dominating, football will continue to languish.
About the author: Badal Roy is a former Bangladesh football captain.