This article was published in the August issue of Sports Tribune magazine
Approximately 12 years ago when the professional football league was introduced, Nabib Newaj Jibon was playing in the pioneer league.
Gradually the talented footballer ascended through the ladder of second division, first division and became the finest striker of the land.
Abahani Limited’s striker enjoyed his best season this year becoming the top scorer among the local players while enjoying his new playing role of No 10.
But the journey was not easy as he seldom got chances in his favorable positions due to the presence of foreign players and coaches’ reluctance of giving chances to local prodigies.
“I couldn’t play at my more favorable role as center-forward or behind the striker as those positions were mostly reserved for the foreign players. I had to play as winger at both left and right side most of the times in the professional league. This is the first season I got enough opportunities to prove my worth in the new role,” said the 28-year old.
In the league of record increasing presence of foreign footballers, Jibon outpaced his initial target of scoring 15 goals to meet 17 and was placed third in the premier league’s top scorers’ chart, only behind Nigerian striking duo, Raphael Onwrebe (Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra) and Sunday Chizoba (Abahani).
It was nothing new as the foreign recruits were found among the top scorers in the majority of the previous top-flight editions.
After the success, Jibon vouched for local talents.
“The foreign strikers get more game time so it is normal that they score more goals than the local counterparts who don’t get sufficient chances playing at their favorite role. How can we expect from the locals to score more goals? We proved that if we can get continuous playing opportunity we can score goals too,” said Jibon.
Flights in the lower leagues
Not every footballer is blessed with the opportunity of playing directly in the Bangladesh Premier League after shining well for one or two seasons in one of the lower-tier competitions.
Jibon had to taste experience at almost every lower-tier league formats from pioneer league in 2007, second division in 2008, different district leagues in 2009, first division in 2010 to a couple of seasons in the second-tier Bangladesh Championship League in 2011-13 before stepping into the top-flight league.
“In 2006, I played in the JFA Cup U-16 tournament and was called up for the U-17 national camp for three months but couldn’t make it to the final squad. I made my pioneer league debut with Noakhali Football Academy and finished the season as top scorer with 11 goals. My lone season in the second division with Ashulia-based Gazir Char Club didn’t go well as the club didn’t have enough players,” said Jibon.
Jibon then roamed around the country to exhibit his skills at different district leagues, including Khulna and Chittagong in 2009, before making his first division debut with Uttar Baridhara Club the following year.
He helped the club to get promoted to the Championship League.
Jibon’s career took a new turn after his second season at Baridhara as he played the key role in guiding the club to their first ever promotion to the premier league by netting the highest goals of the meet.
“I got offers from different top-tier clubs after scoring 13 goals in the Championship. I chose Team BJMC but couldn’t play a single game in the 2013-14 premier league season owing to “promotion binding” rules of the federation. Ten players from Baridhara also faced the same situation.”
Into the premier league, national team
Jibon finally made his BPL debut with BJMC jersey back in the 2014-15 when he netted eight goals along with 10 assists.
He was rewarded with the first-ever call from the national team and made his international debut during the World Cup qualifying match against Kyrgyzstan.
It was the same year six-time professional league champion Abahani penned the deal with Jibon with a notable increased fee.
Jibon, who has experiences in all tiers, articulated the difference between playing a top club and one in the lowly stages.
“From pioneer to Championship, the facility of accommodation and food was below-par. I earned almost nothing in pioneer league but cashed in Tk25, 000 and Tk35, 000 in second and first division respectively. At the Championship I earned around Tk one lakhs per season and it jumped to Tk eight-10 lakhs when I moved to BJMC but it reached more than double when I joined Abahani,” said Jibon.
It was not an all happy debut season for Jibon at Abahani as he made rare starting appearances with Sunday being the main striker of the club.
He got more playing chances the next season, almost half of the total league matches, and scored eight goals.
This season also started as usual for Jibon with fewer appearances in Federation Cup and Independence Cup but once he scored a hat-trick against Rahmatganj Muslim Friends Society in the league’s fourth match, he didn’t have to look back as he went on to make highest 21 starting appearances out of 24, and bagged 17 goals.
Jibon has also scored two goals in Abahani’s tremendous campaign in this year’s AFC Cup where the Sky Blues advanced to the knockout stages as the first ever club from Bangladesh.
But despite making around 20 appearances in national team jersey, he scored only two - with both goals being scored in 2016.
What the coaches think
Jibon credited his club’s Portuguese head coach Mario Lemos, former national team training coach, for suggesting him to try a new role behind the striker for the first time, which eventually clicked well.
“I knew Jibon and his quality previously from the national team. I really felt he can do very well playing in this position. He also needed some playing time and confidence and at the moment he got it, he started to score in almost every match. His confidence is high now and I believe he can do even better,” said Lemos.
Lemos added, “This new No 10 role gives him more freedom and more space to play. Although he is now more responsible in defending, we also want him to be a playmaker and goal-scorer. I always wanted him inside the box.”
Jibon wears No 9 jersey for both Bangladesh and Abahani, which replicates his regular role as center-forward in red and green jersey.
National team’s English head coach Jamie Day praised Jibon for having the ability to play both positions.
“I think Jibon has had a very good season being local top scorer, and played consistently well through the season. Hopefully he can take that form into the World Cup qualifying matches.” said Day.