June 2018

Interviewed by Sudipta Ananda
Translated by Faisal Haidere

Our youth teams have been doing well recently. Do you think our youth development teams are on the right track?
Youth development is a continuous process. Youth development is a club program. The federation is responsible for helping the clubs do better. Yes, they have started improving and it is going good so far. But it’s only the beginning. One thing we need to understand is that, under the youth development program, the federation can only train 30 players of U16 boys, 30 players of U19 boys, and 30 to 40 women players. This is not enough, we need at least 200 players to do better. 10 other people should come forward to help develop players. This is how we can get top-notch players. It can be overly ambitious for one federation to win with just 30 players. I am worried because it’s likely that some players might get injured and some are not going to pursue football as a career. It will become really hard and time-consuming to train new players. Moreover, if the development program is conducted by 10 organization then only 20 players will be available, this is a huge drawback. We definitely need more players in order to do better.

The U18 team did well in Bhutan. We had a great chance to win the title. How do you think our team is doing?
There are good players, however, most of the players are now playing in the leagues and I am unable to train them. I only get 4-5 days to train them. If the club allows them to join us for training, I can come up with a feasible long-term plan. Otherwise, I might have to cancel the league and the clubs might not be too happy about it. But the players have many prospects, within 4-5 years the players will become national team players.

Do you think to reach our objective, we need an all rounded collective effort?
Yes, it has to be done collectively. Once again, whoever gets appointed as the BFF president needs to understand that to compete in the world standard, professional development is needed. It needs to be taken seriously, as this game is played in 211 countries and is highly popular in 200 countries. Players need to be paid more hence, everyone needs to work towards making football relevant.

From an economic perspective, football is one of the most profitable businesses. What do you think?
It can be a profitable business, however, there is a lack of public participation. When I used to play, there were at least 50,000 people in the stadium which were profitable. But these days we lack the development. After I started working, there were less than 1,000 spectators in the stadium. The matches got cancelled frequently. To do better, clubs need to start focusing on marketing.

What challenges do you face when you are trying to get sponsorship?
Getting sponsorship can be challenging. The fund provided by the sports ministry is not enough and we do not have many sponsors like India and Korea. Japan and Korea are doing really well these days. Korea is doing well because they are being sponsored by big companies like Hyundai and Samsung. Similarly, Japan has sponsors like Honda, Toyota and Suzuki. India will soon become a powerful team as they are being sponsored by groups like Reliance. Bangladesh lacks support from such corporate entities.

Where do you get your finances from? Do you think it is sufficient for the whole year?
We get our finances from FIFA and AFC. I worked really hard to get that. However, it is not sustainable or sufficient. We need more sponsors to step up and support football.

What can be done to improve the circumstances at this point?
In order to do well at the international level, the government needs to provide more funds, like China. I was invited by the president of the Chinese Football Federation, where the Chinese told me that they are targeting to win the WC 2030. The current president of China has taken interest in sports and wants to contribute to sports like football. He felt that China is not being recognized for their sports. He appointed the president of Chinese Football federation and granted 50 million USD. The Chinese football federation has affiliations with 22 foreign football federation. They are very serious about football and Bangladesh needs to follow in their footsteps if they want to succeed in this field.

What can be done to convey this message to the PM?
The ministry of sports needs to get involved directly. They need to discuss plans with the finance minister and prime minister and come up with a feasible budget.

What are the income and expenses of BFF?
BFF gets about five lakhs from the government, two and a half lakhs dollars from AFC, and five lakhs dollars from FIFA. This amount equates to six crore taka and is fixed, this is what costs to run the office. Three to four crore is spent on the office. We spend at least 70 lakhs for every foreign trip for a whole team. Every year, 10 teams go abroad. Women training camps cost about two crores per year. For recruiting foreign coaches and technical directors, two crores are needed. At least 30 crore taka is needed for the overall annual expenses.

What are some obstacles you face while trying to help the players develop professionally?
I think financial. Because, except two or three clubs, we are struggling financially. When you are struggling financially it is hard to improve and help others. Being able to play is irrelevant without proper finances.

The youth team lost to Bhutan. Do you see this loss as a setback?
Losses are part of the game. Yes, it is a setback, but with proper training and seriousness, we can make a comeback. We did have great wins like the SA game in Dhaka.

Do you think the national team will make a comeback?
It’s not going happen in one or two days. We need to work hard, train hard and do better. Good things take time. We are all working towards winning.

Next September we are going to host the SAF championship. What are your plans?
We are working on it. I have had meetings with the director of the strategy and we are working on it. September is a big month for us and we are planning to do well and succeed.

We have seen two successful tournaments of Bangabandhu Gold Cup arranged by you. Are you planning to do something similar this year?
I Hope so. It’s a very difficult job in today’s world. All countries have professional leagues so they have proper support. The FIFA-AFC program has been so big at the year; UEFA and others also have their own programs. It can difficult to arrange such events due to time constraint and other responsibilities. But we are thinking of doing another one. Let’s see what happens.

By Samsul Arefin Khan

Over the last few years, street football has gained utmost popularity in the big cities of Bangladesh, although the form of the game is yet to be spread throughout the country. It’s a kind of platform for amateur booters who can display their skills in order to retain their competitive spirit and maintain their fitness.

The journey of street football in the country started around early 2000 when a number of enthusiastic schools and university-going students introduced the form of the game and initially played with each other just as a form of entertainment. It found its pace in 2006-2007 and reached its peak in 2011-2016 until the Novo theatre field was open for all.

Street football has evolved greatly over the last few years with tournaments currently being held in different forms and with different sets of rules. There’s the usual outdoor football with standard rules, then there are street football tournaments, held in places like outdoor basketball and tennis courts, which are usually played five-a-side. There’s indoor football which is also played with a small number of players on each side, usually with small posts and no goalkeepers. And another popular form and variant of association football are called Futsal, popularized by South Americans. These improvised rules make the game harder and more interesting.

Nowadays, many tournaments are being held by different organizations. Many reputed schools, colleges or universities, and their alumni organizations are arranging annual tournaments like XPL [Ex Cadet Premier League], ORWA five-a-side tournament and a many more, which is giving non-professional players the opportunity to fulfill their passion and to be in touch with their nearest circles.

THE VIEW FROM THE AVENUE: One Man’s Perspective
Mesbaur Rahman, the consultant of Excalibur Entertainment, has been organizing Ascent Corporate Football since 2006 and has informed that the corporate tournaments are gaining popularity day by day, and are playing a vital role in making public relationships between the higher authorities of corporate companies.

“We are arranging the tournament since 2006. This year, we arranged the 12th edition of the tournament. In the first year there were only 16 teams, but last year, 44 teams participated in the tournament. We have received so many requests from various corporate houses who want to participate in the tournament. So I think that the popularity of these tournaments is increasing day by day.”

“There is a similar kind of tournament held in India so the concept of arranging such a tournament came from there. The game is better managed than other sports. Only five to seven players played for each team in these tournaments and the duration of a match is even shorter. It also takes less time and the whole tournament can be organized within a very short time.

“The tournament plays a very vital role in public relations. It is really difficult to make corporate relationships in other places. None of the players played professional football but some of them play really well,” postulates Mesbaur.
Unlike the corporate tournaments, in the last few years, the number of street tournaments decreased significantly due to insufficient fields. The tournaments were usually arranged at Uttara Sector 4 field, RAB 1 field, Outer of Army Stadium, the Novo-theatre field of Bijoy Sarani, DMC Fazle Rabbi Hall field, Dhanmondi 8 field and Abahani field. Dhanmondi Road 8 field, a regular venue for tournaments, was renovated recently and then closed off to the public, while the Abahani indoor court prohibited indoor football. Many fields are in terrible condition due to insufficient care.

Underground football is also a great place to nurture one’s personal skills that may lead to greater success to help oneself become a good footballer.

INVADING THE PITCH
Nowadays, the most common venues for street tournaments are Mirpur Indoor Stadium, Shaheed Captain M Mansur Ali National Handball Stadium, and Fortis Sports Ground.

Most tournaments now are arranged for business purposes, which leaves the amateur booters in a great trouble. However, there are a few people who continue to play simply because of their love for the game.

At times, there were almost 25-30 teams that used to play. There were 10-15 sides that had a lot of potentials, like DOHS United, 7 Nations Army, FC Lycans, Club 11, Amigos, Josephite Soccer Knights, Lab Galacticos, Remain Raiders, and Rapid FC. However, due to the lack of opportunities to play, the number of good teams have been substantially decreasing day by day.

Jainus Saleheen Shawgat, one of the top street footballers who played for Lab Galacticos and FC Lycans, was very concerned about the current condition of the street football scene in Dhaka and said the numbers of the tournaments should be increased, while the organizers should care more about the tournaments than the profit.

“I started my football at the Dhanmondi 8 field as a forward when I was in class eight during 2005. The condition of the field wasn’t that good. Soccer Knight was the best side back then. I used to play with my friends in small teams. I started playing regularly when I got admitted to North South University. Mainly, I started playing a long time ago but didn’t join a good side until I got admitted to the university.”

“The number of tournaments has decreased, while the running tournaments are mainly concerned on their business. They used to take Tk. 4,000 – 5,000 as an entry fee for the one-day-long tournament, which is really absurd,” he added.

Being acknowledged is the ultimate prize in any football tournament and underground football is no exception.

IT TAKES TEAMWORK
Some of the key achievements of the street football platform include allowing young and talented players to stay in practice and assess their skills with their competitors.

Though most players play street football as a hobby and don’t expect career prospects out of it, a few players have been approached by professional clubs like Abahani Limited.

“There was a player named Shihoron, who went to the USA and played in their professional league. Birol Bhai (Mustafa Walid Sarwar), who is the son of former Bangladesh footballer and Abahani coach Golam Sarwar Tipu, got the call from Abahani but he gave up his passion and concentrated on studying. There are various players like them, who played really good football but due to lack of opportunity, their potentiality was nipped in the bud. And due to this, now many youths have failed to find their right way as well,” concludes Shawgat.

By Ahmed Sayed Al Fatah 

Football creates a human incentive for building up the fundamental abilities. The football business is a profitable one. Without the financial sponsorship of corporate alliances, noteworthy social changes is limited. Corporate administrators should consider working on football projects that align with their corporate social engagement system.

Football is an entertaining sport, which brings a community together and adds to the social capital. In addition, the corporate world has necessary assets to contribute to football. Taking up this corporate social duty can prove to be youth-accommodating, well-being focused, socially intuitive, socially freeing and fun. Corporate administrators and game supervisors can improve the monetary prospects of their associations and expand the associated social advantages.

Focused training or intense exercise for football is an investment in fitness. Furthermore, it encourages a physically dynamic way of life through long-lasting physical exercises and contributes to fundamental social and mental abilities like relational aptitudes and protection abilities. It also enhances formative results, for instance, certainty, self-control, character, inspiration, and consistency. Support in training can improve physical, social, and mental resources.

CSR can create a lot of opportunities outside the field. It can be beneficial for football clubs, neighborhood groups and partners, as it encourages teamwork and meeting objectives. CSR fosters collaboration between a club and its partners which can have a long-term impact on the group. Political administration involves connections that clubs keep up with nearby lawmakers that impacts administrative, monetary and moral systems. Hierarchical administration ensures efficiency. At long last, this last measurement is recursive in that adjustments in the administration are affected by social and monetary determinants, and are the consequence of considering CSR, impacts the reasons for sports clubs’ social engagement.

18 years back, CSR did not assume a noteworthy part in which proficient football associations are currently going into socially capable activities at a quicker pace. An assortment of variables has prompted the developing significance of CSR with football associations or potentially clubs and corporates alike. A few associations trust that doing great is the proper activity and are engaged in these activities for respectable reasons. A few associations, then again, trust that doing great is great business and are roused by down to earth matters, for example, anticipating a positive picture; creating generosity among different partners; (e.g., workers, surviving and potential clients, the nearby group), countering negative media examination, as well as accepting tax reductions and sponsorships from governing bodies.

French legend Zinadine Zidane in Bangladesh, November 2006

For instance, FIFA has made a CSR unit that spends over 40% of its pay to help various football clubs in association with other groups. Entities like Nike, Reebok, NBA and NASCAR, are popular for showing support to underprivileged individuals in society who are usually neglected. By the by, the ceaseless mission for authenticity that seems to drive proficient football clubs can add to a more proactive visions by joining a club’s partners (supports, open experts, representatives, fans, and so forth) around social objectives and in addition donning goals.

Football competition empowers individuals and can be a strength, vote based system, and peaceful invigorate social attachment and reasonable play. Likewise, the monetary and social advantages that go with the facilitating of trademark don occasions can cast a focus on the political exercises of governments. For example, the FIFA World Cup and Beijing Olympics are connected with a natural and manageability mindfulness.

Football CSR programs offer incredible breadth for support and incorporation, in this way, upgrading social speculations through broad communications conveyance and correspondence control. Youngsters love football. Moreover, it is beneficial to the youth in that it enhances confidence, propels great citizenship, cultivates the estimation of dominance and participation, and energizes a physically dynamic way of life.

Sports for Life: The writer of this article is a successful implementer of a Football training program at Chor Thanapara in Kushtia district. After overcoming various obstacles, such as village politics and gender discrimination, the writer started football training for five girls ranging from 8-11 years old, under the banner Sports for Life. After six months of training, Nilufa was selected as a representative of Kushtia U-15 District Football Team in 2013. Her life took a positive turn after this. Due to her great performance in district and divisional teams, she soon became a respected member of the slum. Furthermore, she was selected for the Bangladesh National Women’s U-14 Football Team. She also won the championship trophy from Tajikistan in 2016 at the Asian Football Confederation U14 Girls Championship. She made history by qualifying for the final round of the U-16 National Women’s Football team. Her story is truly inspirational, as platforms like football gave a girl from the slum the opportunity to visit 7 countries at age 14.

Football as CSR: The writer, managed to get support from Nandita Properties (a local apartment builder company) to sponsor social activities of “Sports for Life”. After partnering with Sports for Life, the construction company was well accepted by the locals, as a result, there were no thefts in the construction sites. Consequently, the company was able to sell their apartments with minimum marketing effort.

By Meer Raihan Masud

This is a very common joke among the regular visitors of the football matches in Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. But who is Ata Pagla? What is the story behind the humor?

It was the most tumultuous time in the world as it was witnessing the last days of the horrible second World War, the most catastrophic event of the last century. During that bloodbath, the story of life was not halted and at Tikatuli, an erstwhile elite area of Dhaka, a tiny little boy was born. No, he did not become a significant figure in the country’s political history but he has been a close observer of the phenomena that we may call ‘the rise and fall of Dhaka’s football’.

“THE REFEREE MAY MISS THE GAME BUT ATA PAGLA WON’T MISS A SINGLE FOOTBALL MATCH AT THE BANGABANDHU STADIUM.”

His real name has been lost to oblivion and he is simply known as ‘Ata Pagla’ or ‘Mohammedan’s Ata’ for his lifelong devotion to Mohammedan Sporting Club.

The first thing one may notice facing him is his affinity with English, as he speaks the language more than his mother tongue Bangla. He finished his university studies in the 60s but he was more interested in bodybuilding. That interest helped him to play as a striker in a local club. He was mesmerized by the beautiful game and to be precise with the MSC – one of the oldest clubs in the region.

He first watched a Mohammedan game back in 1962 at the age of 17 at the Bangabandhu Stadium (at the time, Dhaka Stadium) and fell in love at first sight, and it became a timeless tale.

Ata claims that he has never missed a single MSC game ever since. Severe illnesses such as jaundice and a hernia were not enough to stop him from savoring the experience of a match at the stadium.

Ata’s love for Mohammedan is more than half a century old. This dedication and passion have become a myth on the local scene.

During his youth, he took a job for his livelihood but his mind remained on the pitch. He often faked sickness to take time off for a game. Eventually, he left his job and remained unemployed ever since.

For many years, Ata spent most of the daytime in the vicinity of the stadium and took shelter at night to sleep at his mother’s abode, where no facility of cooking is available.

His life, his family is in and around the stadium. He is everyone’s favorite Ata Vai. The gallery of Bangabandhu near the Baitul Mokarrum has become more than his own home. The golden era of the stadium full of spectators is long gone and these days, only police, journalists and crows seem to be the only regular attendees in the stadium.

However, Ata seems to defy it by not only with his sheer presence but with his continuous chanting during all 90 minutes, as if he is attempting to do the job of a thousand cheerleaders.

‘Mohammedan’s Ata’ is a spectator in a mostly empty stadium.

His enthusiasm transcended beyond the stadium. He still maintains his zeal for life despite his age.
Ata was also very openly passionate about the game. He would utter profanities from the press box whenever he did not agree with the referee’s verdict. Witnesses could see his eyes pop out of their sockets at some points.
“See, what a poor decision, he is not a referee at all,” was his most polite reaction among a barrage of unutterable slangs.

Ata is so passionate that he has become a one-man-army, he often hoists the flag even at an empty stadium to encourage players.

But it is the decline of country’s football that hurts this aged man most. Sometimes, when he eavesdrops at the gallery, he hears thousands of spectators roaring for their favorite team.
Ata vai still hopes those golden days shall return. Even though he has seen it all in his life, he envisages an impossible dream, the Renaissance of Bangladesh football. 

By Mosharrof Hossain

On August 2015, the richest football player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo chose a humongous present – an entire Mediterranean Island – as a wedding gift for one of his friends. Not only that, he was also the best man of that lavish ceremony. It is said that the groom, Jorge Mendes, is almost as influential as his best man when it comes to the football world.

However, Jorge was never a stupendous footballer and once had to work in nightclubs as a Disco Jockey to earn his livelihood. So how on earth did this Portuguese become one of the most influential figures in global sports tantamount to a modern-day maestro, and enjoy the amity with one of the finest and richest footballers the world has ever seen? What is the secret of his amazing ascendency? How did he ascend the ranks of football royalty?

Well, the man, who is reported to have more than $100 million, is a players’ agent – one of the most crucial personnel in modern day’s football fraternity.

In the lucrative world of modern football, which sees transactions in the millions, a player’s agent is the person who is in charge of managing the accounts and financial benefits for the players. In order to conduct all of this, one needs to accumulate a plethora of skills, namely: the faith of top footballers, recognize budding talents, nurture them and become a friend, philosopher, guide, and aide for players.

The agent is very closely involved in managing the career of a player. His main aim is to handle the player’s activities off the field and let him concentrate solely on his job of playing football. He plays an important role in guiding a player to take the best possible decision in terms of his professional as well as personal life. In brief, an agent takes off all the load of a footballer other than playing and allows him to focus just on his job.

Players remain in the center stage of the ever-growing transfer market, but agents play the pivotal role to sign these deals.

Transfer negotiation is the time when an agent’s role becomes more crucial. It’s not only about getting the player moved to another club but also negotiating the deal with the present club and personal terms with the potential future club. But an agent attracts the entire media spotlight during the contract negotiation period. As a matter of fact, during the pre-season transfer window, when the balls are not rolled for professional leagues, these agents fill up the sports pages with all sorts of transfer news, both legitimate and the speculative ones. And nowadays, as both journalists and football fans possess endless glut for footballing news, agents not only do the job of feeding them with all sorts of information but also take the center stage way too often.

During that transfer window, players change their clubs. Clubs contact the agents of the players they seek to make contracts. When the negotiation for the contract begins the agent tries to get the best for his client in terms of money, the number of year’s extension, performance benefits, and so on and so forth. It is true that the agent gets a hefty cut after making a successful deal but that is worthy for a player as the negotiating skill of the agent surely helps him inking a much better deal with the club in terms of money and facilities.

Agents also do the job of media management for his clients, the footballers and also the coaches via publicists. During the age of the internet, it is not easy for a professional footballer to manage the media as the players are under constant surveillance of myriad media. Hence, a player must follow the guideline of an expert about his public affairs to sustain his public image that is as important as playing well. One even argues to that extent that, in the epoch of commercialization maintaining a ‘market value’ or ‘brand’ is more important than mere footballing skill.
And here comes the agent; it’s his job to help the player to say the right things and show the world what he is all about. Agents today use social media effectively to promote their clients and help to develop a fan base for them. Thus, under his stewardship, a player not only lengthens his career but also accentuates it.

So the agent’s job is not only to make the players wealthy but acts as the lighthouse of their professional careers and navigate them to the shore of stardom.

Nowadays, players contact their agents for any problem and every problem they face, be it with the club, with a teammate or even girlfriend and wife. From finding a new car to a new house, paying bills to make holiday plans – agents play a vital role. For instance, Italian footballer Mario Balotelli once called his agent Mino Raiola when his house was on fire. And only after Riola, one of the celebrity agents – known as super agents, advised to call the fire brigade, the footballer could comprehend what he had to. Well, one may think Balettoli a dingbat but as a matter of fact, most of the footballers consult with their agents even before taking a step off the field. That shows the enormous role an agent plays in the life of footballers.

But not all players are connected with professional agents. Some notable players like Messi, Neymar, Totti, Ramos, Juan Mata, Arjen Robben are using their own family members as their agent, and there are players like Eden Hazard who have no agent.

However, not every player is lucky to have an agent in the family, so men like Mendes and Riola rule. These agents have also played a huge role in some of the biggest transfers in the history of the sport. The best examples are the transfers of Pavel Nedved to Juventus, Ronaldo to Real Madrid, Paul Pogba to Man United, Diego Costa to Chelsea and Thiago Silva to PSG.

Jorge Mendes represents individuals like Cristiano Ronaldo, José Mourinho, David de Gea, Radamel Falcao, Nani, Pepe and Renato Sanches. On the other hand, Mino Raiola represents the likes of Paul Pogba, Pavel Nedved, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Marco Verratti, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mario Balotelli and Romelu Lukaku. We can even make a Mendes XI and Raiola XI with a valid football formation, and if they compete against each other, that would be a mouth-watering clash for all football fans.

Pogba had left Manchester United after playing only three matches on a $1.5 million transfer and after four years, he returned from Juventus for a fee of $130 million. In turn, his agent got 30% cut of that mammoth transfer fee. And after the world record transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to PSG, his father (his agent) received an amount of almost £20 million.

Jorge Mendes – ‘Super-Agent’ Mendez with his friend, champion compatriot, Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, there are other sides of the coin as De Gea transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid was postponed in the eleventh hour after days of discussions and paper works. That fiasco could not produce a single penny for the hapless agent.

Though the agents are more actively involved now, the history of involvement begins after the Second World War. Back in those days, there was no real control over football transfers and people from all parts of society found ways to earn some extra money within the business. The first big transfer with the help of an agent happened back in 1957 when the Wales international William John Charles moved from Leeds United to Juventus. The transfer fee was a record £65,000, almost doubling the previous record.

Well, there are, as in other things, good agents and bad agents. There are even incidents when agents ruined careers with improper transfers and guidance for the sake of their cut. Supporters often allege that these folks only chase money and for the pursuit of bucks they recklessly put their clients in a debacle. Last year, Barcelona fans blamed Neymar’s father for the transfer of the Brazilian talisman, they think, the move would ruin the career of the talented striker as playing in Ligue 1 (French league) for PSG is a lot less challenging than playing for their club. Barca fans think Neymar’s agent did it just for the money, not for the sake of his career. And there are many allegations like this throughout the footballing world.

There are graver allegations, unfortunately. In many poor countries, especially in Africa, agents lure the youngsters for big leagues. Parents sell their assets and pay the money to agents with those promises. But most often the wicked agents leave the hapless lads to oblivion, some lose their organs, some are used for prostitution and many other illicit activities.

Yet, the football agents are irreparable. The lucrative world of football would be a mess of potentially dangerous dealings and illegal tactics. In the big leagues under FIFA, UEFA, and other corresponding authorities keep their watchful eyes on the acts of agents. Without the strict infrastructure of the authority, the transfer market and the players would be extremely vulnerable.

But what about Bangladesh? Like many things, we had this culture of agents but with the demise of football, the culture became morbid. In the golden age of our football ‘scouts’ of the clubs used to search for talents and find them from the nook and corner of the country. Many of our superstars from yesteryears came to light through this process.

Many believe the football frantic nation with 160 million people has innumerable talent without being recognized. Perhaps we may not find a Messi but surely with ambition, a good agent may find an uncut diamond and shape that to a luminous one.

May one of us dare to dream to become a Jorge Mendes to find our own CR7?

By Shuvo Alam

What was the most cherished item for a young man during the 1980s? The most common answer to that question would have to be a football. We often hear the stories of great Latin footballers and their passion for the sport. This particular type of ball is tantamount to their life, as they not only carry it around throughout the day but also sleep with it at night.

According to Eduardo Galeano, “They call it by many names: the sphere, the round, the tool, the globe, the balloon, the projectile. In Brazil, no one doubts the ball is a woman. Brazilians call her pudgy, gorduchinha, or baby, menina, and they also give her names like Maricota, Leonor, or Margarita. Pelé kissed her in Maracanã when he scored his 1,000th goal, and Di Stéfano built her a monument in front of his house, a bronze ball with a plaque that says: Thanks, old girl.”

The game has slowly started to lose its appeal among the children of Bangladesh over the years, partly due to the emergence of video games and television, but more importantly due to the lack of playing fields. Young boys and girls these days are picking up electronic devices rather than footballs.

Bangladesh has not only lost the glory and its position in the map of football, but its football industry is almost completely wiped off as well. This has led to an increase in the price of football.

After visiting one of the largest sports markets in Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Stadium area, I found that balls of different size and quality are being sold at various prices ranging from Tk. 150 to Tk. 2,500. These products were imported from countries such as China, Pakistan and even India.

My search for a locally made football in almost every shop turned out to be futile. When questioned, the traders informed me about how most of the football factories that were located in places like Keraniganj, Demra, and Savar were either closed or being used for different purposes. Amjad Hossain, a trader, talked about how there were 10 factories producing footballs five years ago, but now, all of the factories have stopped the production of footballs.

“Therefore, we are now heavily dependent on imported footballs so that we can sell them to the football players and lovers,” he added. He also said that these balls were not only used in the local and regional football competitions. Many national level events have also used these balls.

“The imported balls are of better quality in comparatively low prices, and even the color of the balls are vibrant,” claimed Shahbuddin Ahmed, a shop owner from Gulistan. He insisted these are the reasons the locally made products failed to compete with the foreign ones and had been driven out of business.

This blow for the local producers was significant during World Cup 2010 held in South Africa. Classified as the most followed event globally, the local market was inundated with imported balls from China and Pakistan during the competition.

Faruk Uz Zaman, who once owned a football factory in Demra, said he started making jerseys and sports merchandises instead of footballs, as he incurred a loss every year since 2010.

He initially had six employees working for 10 hours a day to make approximately 100 footballs a month. In 2012, he turned his football factory into a merchandise factory as most of his workers began working for readymade garments factories with higher wages. Due to lack of capital, they could not afford high-tech football machines. Most of the raw materials were imported from foreign countries, due to which they had to supply the locally made footballs with relatively higher prices in comparison to the Chinese and Pakistani products. “This was how we started losing our markets and stopped making footballs,” he said.

The Profit Pitch
The sports merchandise traders had thought that if Bangladesh could earn at least $500 million for exporting World Cup 2014 jerseys of most of the players from the 16 participating teams, then maybe the country could be a big name in producing footballs.

During this time in 2014, Bangladesh had also manufactured the national team jerseys for Brazil, the most successful team in World Cup history as well as the hosts that year. According to media reports, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) took a decision to imprint the words “Made in Bangladesh” at the lower part of the jersey in order to pay homage to the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 that took the lives of over 1,100 people and the Tazreen Garments fire that killed over a 100 people.

“If the world’s best football team can use merchandise made in Bangladesh, then we believe someday they could be playing with the footballs made in Bangladesh,” said Nafis Ahmed, a football lover and the supporter of Brazil’s national football team.

An industry producing football and other sports gears will not only earn money, boost our economy, and provide employment, but it will also provide the next generation with a refreshing childhood. A football can surely transform a technology-dependent childhood into an athletic one.

By Mahbub Sarker

Bangladesh football became professional nearly a decade ago and some of these changes are apparent. Nevertheless, the professional infrastructure is a far cry from being standard. Coaches are pivotal to the game. Yet the developments of coaches are overlooked here. Maruful Haque, the first South Asian to achieve the UEFA ‘A’ license, discussed the matter in detail:

“The development of coaching has not been progressed at the desired pace since Bangladesh entered into the professional phase. Once upon a time, our coaches used to work merely through a verbal agreement with different teams. There was no steadfast rule about their wage. They used to receive a lump-sum at the end of the season. These days, each and every club makes some kind of agreement with coaches. But those are not fully professional agreements. I would say it’s more like a semi-professional agreement.”

Although there are some external changes after the professional league had emerged, there were not many internal changes. Till date, the internal aspects of a team are not adjusted according to the coach’s wish. Coaches are yet to enjoy the full freedom that is a prerequisite in the modern era for achieving success.

Maruful Haque, the first South Asian to achieve the UEFA ‘A’ license

A team is made upon the philosophy and the plans of a coach in football. Yet Bangladesh is an exception in that regard. On most occasions, officials present a team after selecting the players themselves. But a coach must be involved with the selection process, as he needs different types of players to execute his plans and techniques in the field of play.

For example, if you want to play attacking football through wings, you need fast fullbacks. Winger must also be sharp. If you do not get natural talents in these positions, you won’t be able to execute your plans. For that reason, coaches must be involved in processing the team right from the beginning or in other words from selecting his men.

The situation is exactly the same in other parts of the world as coaches get full freedom, unlike their Bangladeshi counterparts. Clubs pick up new players according to certain demands of the coach. As players make long-term contracts with the club the changes are made through a compromise between the wishes of the coach and the approval of the general manager and other executives. And the coach also gets at least a couple seasons to build up his team.

To become an ideal coach, one must be a good student first. He must have interest in learning and understanding. Our coaches have a profound lack in that regard. One can expect total control in one’s work area only after fulfilling the prerequisites of an ideal coach. Perhaps we have to compromise as we are unable to fulfill those norms.

The scenario will only change when organizers work in unison. To make coaching work in a professional manner and efficient, continuous training is imperative. Furthermore, a quality academy for coaches and investment is required. Although the situation is bleak, with strategic planning and proper investment, things could actually change. A professional coaching structure will not only accentuate the country’s football but also will reap rich rewards, both in money and esteem, for the country and the investors.
“There are certain steps to become a better manager or coach.
First, one must read voraciously and institutional education is required for that reason. Without that, the progress of a coach will be hindered. Second, A huge amount of investment is required. With that, one must also have patience as the return will take time.

They must be prepared to struggle for a long time. I started my coaching career back in 1994 and was able to work in the top tier of the domestic league in 2009. Even after that, I have been striving to learn more and through that endeavor, I earned UEFA ‘A’ license by completing the courses in a few steps.”
And this is a continuous learning process for a field of dreams.

By Shishir Hoque

The term ‘girl power’ might have become a cliché, but in Bangladesh football that has been the perfect adage to use, as it has not only defied long-standing taboos and paved the way for millions to cherish their dream, but also opened up many positive facades.

Even a decade ago, women playing football was almost forbidden in this pseudo-conservative society. Nevertheless, the phenomenal achievement of young women, especially youth football, has changed that perception upside down.

Bangladesh under-17 team has qualified as one of the eight best teams of Asia to play in the World Cup qualifying round, and despite their failure to cross the ultimate hurdle but to surpass the likes of India, the local powerhouse was a phenomenal achievement.

Footballing infrastructures like the introduction of women’s school football in the remotest parts of the country have played the foundational role behind the young Bangladesh girls’ eye-catching performances. 

Leveling The Playing Field
Even the FIFA authorities have been discussing Bangladesh’s rise as “exemplary” and “role models” for the development of women’s football in the world.

At the start of this decade, women’s football was limited to the ethnic groups of Chittagong Hill Tracts and girls hailing from the Southwestern corner of the country. After the government-funded primary school tournaments spread all over the country, the girls from Mymensingh, Tangail, Rangpur, Thakurgaon, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Sirajganj, Gazipur, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazaar started contributing to different national youth teams, especially the one rose from the hillocks of Mymensingh.

Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF), a group of dedicated local coaches and organizers utilized government’s mega project by picking up the best talents for the national youth team.

BFF’s women’s wing committee chairman, Mahfuza Akter Kiron, recalled the situation of women’s football from the years 2008-2012 – the years when she was the deputy chairman of the same committee. “The situation of women’s football was quite the same till 2011-12. Women’s football was limited to only a few districts,” elaborated Kiron, “We received benefits from the Bangamata School Football Tournament. It created awareness of women’s football across the country and we cashed in on it. We capture the best girls and ensure them continuous training.”

The Local Scenario
Bangabandhu Gold Cup, a tournament for primary school boys was launched a year before the inauguration of Bangamata Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib Gold Cup Primary School Football Tournament, organized by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, started its journey in 2011. The tournament involves more than a million young female footballers from around 64,000 schools every year. The BFF has been exclusively nurturing 39 young booters, who formed different national women’s teams in recent times, and as many as 38 of them hail from one of the largest women’s football events in the world.

So it is seen that the proper planning and execution amid limited resource may bring success and this lesson can be implemented in many aspects even beyond football in Bangladesh.

Golam Rabbani Choton, the women’s’ team coach, who is acknowledged as a wizard to guide the women’s’ national sides to claim few has been closely guiding the women’s sides since 2009, a year before the national women’s team tasted their first international football experience during the South Asian Games in 2010 came three decades after their male counterpart. He informed that a total of 36 women footballers played between 2009 and 2011, and all of them came from only five districts – Rangamati, Khagrachari, Satkhira, Jessore, and Narayanganj.

The regular squad was, however, dominated mostly by the girls coming from the ethnic minorities of Chittagong Hill Tracts, but one of the exceptions was Sabina Khatun from Satkhira. Sabina, the national and domestic top-scorer, is still captaining the national women’s team. She is also among the four-member coaching staff of the women’s youth team after completing the first part of the B-License coaching course last year.

“When I started playing, women’s football also began its journey. There was a lack of events and training facilities. Women’s football activities started to increase after 2011. The current girls have been training long-term, played a lot of matches together and bonded well, which made football easier for them,” Sabina stated in an interview.

Bangladesh girls are proving themselves in the international arena

Fostering the Future
There were some passionate coaches-turned-organizers like Akbar Ali from Satkhira, Mosleh Uddin Khandakar, popularly known as Bidyut Chacha, from Narayanganj and Emdadul Haq Shachchu from Jessore who helped the girls of their respective areas to break the social taboo and guided them all the way to Dhaka. Sabina, along with a couple of youth national players, were taught football lessons by Akbar, whose daughters Mukta and Rikta featured in the youth national team till 2012. Akbar is still active in his region. Among others, local coaches like Mymensingh’s Mofiz Uddin, Tangail’s Golam Raihan Papon, and Rangpur’s Milon Khan managed to pick up the players who are now the driving force of the national team. It is also seen that many coaches have acquired coaching licenses of Asian Football Federation by successfully passing the necessary examination.

So, it has once again shown that the passion for football and dream is there, it just needs proper juxtaposition for achieving excellence.

Another interesting feature of women’s football is the dominance of girls hailed from ethnic minorities. The ethnic minorities of the country have made a special contribution to the country’s women’s football. Being born and raised up in the hilly areas made them free, athletic and hard working. Bangladesh women’s team captain Sabina admitted that when the ethnic girls first joined the camp they were already well-built and fitter. Players like Aungmara Ching Marma and Nubai Ching Marma from Khagrachari and Trishna Chakma and Suinu Pru Marma from Rangamati were among the ones who dominated national women’s football until 2014-15.

Despite comprising only 2% of the total population, the girls from ethnic minorities have always played key roles in women’s football. Jobaida Nasreen Kona, associate professor of Anthropology department of University of Dhaka, said, “The ethnic minorities living in matriarchal societies enable the girls to be exposed to a lifestyle that makes them confident and hardworking and at the same time, helps them achieve a level of fitness, which sets them apart from the girls coming from the patriarchal societies.”

It may sound over-ambitious, but one may dream that football may play a big role to utilize the diversity of ethnicity and engulf their differences when the whole world is dangerously becoming polarized.

But the greatest impact of girls’ success so far is to ignite dreams of emancipation among thousands of girls in the country. Bangladesh is dreaming to make its name in the footballing globe, in men’s arena it may be a far cry but the ‘girl power’ is en route to achieving that.

Is that an indication of something bigger? The mean of a ‘perpetually poor’ country’s rising to the ranks? Shouldn’t we harness the great power for progress and achieve our dream?

By Ishtiaque Rouf 

Is it possible to talk about something without really talking about it? Maybe, maybe not. Let us still try to talk about football without making it the central focus of this conversation. Why so? Because the beautiful game has become all about money. Players used to be about skill and physicality, fans used to be about passion and loyalty, and clubs used to be about planning and development. All of these have been effectively replaced with money; therefore, any discussion about football runs the risk of quickly devolving into – you guessed it right – money.

At its core, football is a game. The most basic game whose fluid nature is similar to our everyday challenges in life. You can have all the skills as a player, all the talent as a manager, or all the resources as a club, but you will not achieve success unless you have clarity of purpose. Perhaps that’s why the greatest champions of football have also been great philosophers. Cruyff’s, “every disadvantage has its advantage,” for example, can immediately explain his philosophy. It advocates courage and fluidity, it allays any concern about the what-if.

The same holds for the business of football – it is, at its core, a simple business with a worldwide market. As owners, planners, analyzers, financiers, and patrons of football, we should approach it like any other venture. One should divorce any emotion and focus on making correct business decisions. You will not seek 50 times profit on a ballpoint pen, offer to buy a typewriter for the price of an iPhone, or hope to become a global icon on the back of making notebooks. Such level of clarity is also required in football. 

The Lucrative League
Just as the earth is round and you can reach any destination if you keep going, success in football – as a business and as a sport – primarily requires us to keep on working. This finite nature is the only benchmark. The difference between success and failure is whether we have pursued all avenues or not. You can pour buckets of gold yet fail, you can assemble the best talents of your time yet fail, but you will not fail if you keep trying.

The long and cautious preface is intended to encourage humble preparation. The numbers do not lie – Bangladesh is at the very bottom in world football for a multitude of reasons. Fancy charts showing how European superpowers have spent a king’s fortune on unproven talent or a vivid description of superstar players leading a flashy lifestyle will create lofty expectations. The down and desperate are especially prone to gambling away what little they have in search of a quick turn of fortune. This holds true for the stock market in Bangladesh to subprime mortgages in the USA.

The first order of business is to understand that sports teams are unlike most business ventures. The returns are not immediate, almost all entities are losing concerns, and the emotion of the masses are rarely consistent with how good a job you are doing. Your budget, investment, and operational policy must reflect a clear understanding of these aspects. Otherwise, bankruptcy is a real threat. Once-formidable clubs like Parma (2014), Glasgow Rangers (2011), Fiorentina (2002), Leeds United (2007), and Portsmouth (2008) became bankrupt, went into administration, got demoted multiple divisions, and had to claw their way back. Many other clubs have been on the brink.

To survive these pitfalls, a club needs to have clarity of vision. You need a clearly defined business model. What type of club do you want to be? Do you want to be a club that buys and sells top local players, or do you want to be a club that develops young talent and profits by selling them to other clubs? Do you want to run the club that loses money but wins trophies, or do you want to run the club as one that is always solvent? What is the phrase that defines the identity of your club? Are you the cut-throat club or the benevolent club? Are you the idealistic club or the ones who win at any cost? For each of these questions, I am sure a club or two popped into your mind. That is the power of identity, and that identity will help you maintain commercial viability. Only one team will win, but there is no guarantee that the prize money will keep the club afloat. On the contrary, a losing club embraces their record but greatly profit from smart marketing.

Profits and the Profession
Thus far, we’ve discussed topics known to most fans. It is common sense, and regrettably, that is where most mistakes happen. Hence my insistence on divorcing football from the equation and looking at it just as a business. Like every well-run business, you need a pragmatic cost accountant who will duly separate fixed costs from operational considerations, a team of scouts and analysts who know how to crunch data, and of course a talented team of coaches. Additionally, you need a lawyer versed in international sports and labor laws.

Labor law and regulations can be a significant topic of dispute. Until recently, a major cause for concern was third-party ownership of players from poor countries. Since football is generally a failing business with uncertain return, some clubs and players allowed private investors to own partial rights. When the players got sold, the investors got a high return on investment. Practices like these helped the South American and European football market to stay afloat during the financial crisis, but it also comes with a significant concern. The organization must look at these issues very seriously before engaging in activities not sanctioned by FIFA. On one hand, it can be very profitable and help create a lively market. On the other hand, it will disqualify you from interfacing with the global market. On a side note, it is important to recognize that global markets – especially in the west – do not approve of abusive labor practices, discrimination towards homosexuals, tainted investments, etc. If you are not careful about these aspects, then years of hard work can go down the drain.

With the organizational setup in place, you need to identify your unique edge, your competitive advantage, your area of the highest return. Once again, let us discuss competitive advantage without going into football. The concept is fundamental to global economics and has its use in niche markets such as football too. The basic of it is, you must do more of what you are good at, and less of what you are not good at. That which you are good at, you export. That which you are not good at, you import. It is the only solution that is efficient on the global scale. How is it relevant to football?

To understand competitive advantage in footballing terms, consider two teams – one from Europe where players average 6’2” or taller, the other from South America where players average 5’7”. This disparity plays a big part in determining which tactic to pursue – long ball vs. intricate passing. A comparable situation can be found in cricket as well – players developing in the swinging climate in England, or the bouncy pitches in Australia or turning surfaces in South Asia are very different in their approach to the game. We need to find a playing style and a business model that ensures a positive return. Your home should be an impregnable fort, it should be an intimidating place to visit. In sports, this requires energizing the fan base. Great examples can be found when you study American college football or the lower leagues in Europe. Look beyond the top clubs and their mechanical precision; find a small, struggling club that somehow defeats the odds and commands deep fervor irrespective of their win-loss record. Once you find that club, follow their marketing and communication strategy.

The Green Card to Success
Competitive advantage would dictate that you maximize on whatever high-return option you have. If you have a very good goalkeeping coach, maximize him to train and sell as many goalkeepers as you can. Become that go-to place where parents send their kids to become the best goalkeepers. Seek to collaborate with foreign clubs and academies, and focus your research in this area. If you are struggling to develop strong midfielders, adopt a strategy to buy them from other clubs. Clarity about these strategic options is crucial for long-term success. Over time, these players should continue to grow. In addition to maintaining high performance in their core specialty, they should pick up new skills too – usually from a fellow expert in a different area.

Finally, we should resist the intuitive temptations of narrow-minded business practices. It is only human to hog every resource, maximize every profit opportunity, and limit the competition from gaining access to high-quality personnel. It is a short-sighted approach that will stunt real progress in the long run. We should actively try to broaden the base of available talent (players, coaches, analysts, specialists). It is also imperative that the talent is free to roam from club to club. Over time, after a number of cycles, it greatly improves the quality. As we have done many times already, let us detach from football and compare two industries where Bangladesh has gained huge success in recent decades – ready-made garments and telecommunication.

In both of these sectors, we have free movement of labor, exposure to new ways of doing things, highest commitment to quality, complete buy-in from the population, and a very low barrier of entry. Think of football as the garments industry of the 1980s. Seek out the early adopters from that generation, seek their guidance. They will be impartial towards footballing jargon and the media-influenced hype, and that will enable them to impart the best advice. A success sports team is a three-legged stool. You need a large population base that will train and improve. You need a winning mentality that is common among everyone. You need a successful business venture that brings it all together. There is money to be made, but ‘success’ in football entails much more than that. It is essential to have leadership that understands these and delegates resources accordingly.

By Rubel Jubaer

FOOTBALL ACADEMIES ARE THE BREEDING GROUND FOR FUTURE GENERATION PLAYERS BUT BANGLADESH DOES NOT HAVE MANY OF THEM

Bangladesh football has everything but the business. It has exceptional tradition, tales of the golden era but the Midas touch is missing. Football is dying and one of the main reasons is the lack of a pipeline of new and emerging players. Throughout the globe, it is maintained through academies as they not only supply quality players on a constant basis but also generate revenues by doing so.
One of the most experienced coaches in the land, Maruful Haque thinks there is lack of Long Term Player Development (LTPD). He believes the lack of insight into the business of football is the main reason for this shortcoming.

Let us discuss the big global clubs first to understand the mechanism. According to a list of Business Insider, Manchester United was the top earning club with a revenue of 515.3 million euros. However, the club failed to win the domestic league since 2012-13. Its European record is even more dismal, as the English club last won the Champions League Trophy, the title of Europe’s best club, back in 2007-08. Despite the lack of success, the club could grow their income by selling match tickets, jerseys, TV rights, so on and so forth. The saga is same almost for most successful global clubs and even for the clubs which are most supported in each of the countries.

Sylhet football academy became a ray of light but it proved to be a mirage, as BFF failed to continue its functions.

But two of the most beloved clubs in this country – Abahani Limited and Mohammedan Sporting Club failed to follow this blueprint. They have a humongous following and have been the most successful clubs in the country. Since the 90s, the galleries had started to become empty. Nevertheless, it was not only the diminishing quality of their players, there was also a lack of professionalism and insight.

Incredibly, Mohammedan does not have its own stadium. Another big club Brothers’ Union has a field to practice but that is not a stadium, let alone a modern one by any means. Chittagong Abahani has a similar story. To make things worse, often these fields are being used as cow markets before Eid.

If we turn back to global clubs, the English club, Arsenal last won the domestic league back in 2003-04, and their best European success was reaching the final of the Champions League back in 2006. However, the club under their French manager Arsene Wenger has surged its account.

One of the key ingredients of this financial success is their academy. The academy trains budding footballers from a tender age and they are sold to other clubs for a hefty sum when they are matured. The story is even more lucrative for La Masia, the legendary Academy of Barcelona Football club, another giant global side.

Arguably the world’s best footballer Lionel Messi was brought up in La Masia, which also nurtured talents like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, members of World Cup-winning Spanish side and Pep Guardiola, the master tactician also learned his trade there.

BKSP building was utilized for the purpose of the academy but the lackluster management failed to produce anything substantial from the project.

La Masia was the brainchild of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who wanted to build an academy like Ajax Academy, and it became the hotbed of world’s best footballers.
These days, almost all European clubs maintain an academy because it is pivotal for ensuring both quality and income for the club. But none of the Bangladeshi clubs could establish an academy to date. Moreover, they lack an age-level team.

Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) tried to set up an academy but it was nipped in the bud. BFF took Sylhet BKSP as lease to run an academy. With the aid of FIFA, BFF president Kazi Muhammad Salahuddin announced the opening of the academy through an extravagant program back in 2014. But it was stopped in the very next year for lack of funding.

There were some personal initiatives as well. Bangladesh national team’s former coach Maruful Haque wanted to move forward with his Creative Football School. He attempted to teach young footballers of the academy psychological skills, social skills, mental strength and morality like the European academies. Nonetheless, that initiative was also stopped due to the lack of quality and modern coaches. Maruf however, does not want to blame only the patronizers but he reckons lack of quality in youth coaches is the main reason for stopping his academy.

Maruf believes that the lack of ‘club culture’ is the primary reason behind the fall of Bangladesh football. He thinks there is no alternative to working with the youth and the grass-roots stage to improve the country’s game. He commented on the condition of the sport in Bangladesh, “Look, there is this program called LTPD, which is a known term throughout the world. Foreign clubs have a marketing section, business section, and other sections to attract revenue. But we have none, We have none to understand the potential business of football and thrive on.”