Is a crisis of strikers hurting Bangladesh football?
Bangladesh football has been improving in the last few years. At least, from the debacle of the loss against Bhutan some years ago, the team is currently far more cohesive, both at the club and the international levels. However, if success has to be measured by results, then club football stands way ahead since last year.
Abahani’s move to the semis was tough since the team had to face Indian clubs in the group stage, including the formidable Chennaiyan FC.
But, in all these club successes, the major roles in the victory were played by African players, namely Sunday Chizoba and Kevin Belforte.
To be honest, club football in Bangladesh is fired by foreign strikers, usually from African nations, but of late, talented players from Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, and South Korea are plying their trade in the domestic leagues.
Imported strikers in demand
Football is a game of goals and as we have seen from the recently concluded Bangabandhu Cup, there is little consolation in playing the whole game and coming out with the wooden spoon. In the final, Palestine had 36% possession against Burundi’s 64%, the former had three shots at goal and scored all three and Burundi had 12 shots, netting only one.
The statistics say it all.
Come to Bangladesh and the acute shortage of strikers is too glaring to miss. The team is cohesive, the passes are crisp, the skills beyond reproach, and the build-up professional -- and yet, in that almost perfect setting, the main force is missing: The goal scorer. The team scores now and then, but it’s not always the striker who nets the ball.
When Bangladesh played the pre-World Cup qualifiers against Laos, there was very little difference between the two teams. Both played fast-paced games but the lucky chance gave Bangladesh a won in Laos while in Dhaka, no one could manage to score. Just like Bangladesh, Laos also did not have striking power.
Now one official had said earlier that local strikers must prove themselves against foreign players and make a position in their club teams. Such a rationale is hardly convincing, since most clubs want to rope in accomplished foreign strikers for their teams.
Unless a local striker is given the chance to play and improve, he will never be able to compete with a foreigner who has already cemented his name by playing as a striker for other teams in and outside his country.
Therefore, to ask a rising striker to compete against an established one is hardly fair.
Let’s not forget, in the local clubs, the locals are often made to play mid-field or other positions and, therefore, get very little chance to score. There has to be an admission from the football authority that a grave, almost irreparable damage has been done to local football by reliance on imported strikers.
From the 80s till the mid-noughties, Bangladesh always had at least one notable scorer -- such as Aslam, Nakib, Mizan, Alfaz, and Emily.
But as soon as clubs began spending more money, the scramble for foreign strikers began.
In the 80s, only the top teams had one or two foreign strikers, namely Taheri, Emeka for Mohammedan, Samir Shakir, Jhukov for Abahani, but at that time, the local strikers also got the chance to hone their skills playing their initial years for smaller clubs like Arambagh, Rahmatganj, Wari, or Dilkusha.
When these strikers scored against top teams, they attracted attention and found a place in the national side.
However, now, even the lower tier teams get foreign strikers, leaving the local ones to be satisfied to play in other positions. So, strikers are hardly given the time to sharpen their skills.
Encourage local talent
The national team has undergone countless trainings in various countries but they will not bring any notable change unless a law codifies that every team at least let -- or give opportunity to -- one local player play in the striking position.
In addition, the BFF should embark on a striker talent hunt program which will only focus on scorers. For this, district-level football has to be rejuvenated with the clause that no foreign players will be allowed to represent district teams. Sadly, in rural football tournaments, we now see African players hired from Dhaka. To be realistic, with the current Bangladesh team, one cannot expect to win the regional championship since striking power is virtually nil.
In the Bangabandhu Cup, we lost to a second string Palestine side and the Burundi team ran riot with the defense as Bangladesh often looked clueless as to how they should stop foreign strikers. In top-class matches, chances which are 50/50 need to be converted but Bangladesh showed how to miss sitters.
Squandering brings severe punishment in football these days.
A striker hunt campaign is what is needed. For upcoming tournaments, one can give serious thought to giving nationality to some top African players who wish to make Bangladesh their home. Such a proposition was launched earlier but fell through. However, we now see the result of that because the national team has not won a single trophy since the 2003 SAFF championship in Dhaka.
Enough of the excuse -- Bangladesh played well but failed to score.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.