• Monday, Dec 09, 2019
  • Last Update : 02:58 am

Jamal, from coma to heartbeat of Bangladesh football fans

  • Published at 12:54 am October 20th, 2019
Jamal
Bangladesh's Jamal Bhuiyan controls the ball during training in Dhaka Dhaka Tribune/Md Manik

Jamal Bhuiyan is currently captaining Chittagong Abahani Limited as a loanee in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup, and on the eve of his side’s inaugural game, the Bangladesh captain gave a long interview to Dhaka Tribune Saturday

Jamal Bhuiyan is unarguably the most talked-about footballer in this part of the world in recent times. He has been quite a regular presence in the national team midfield in the last seven years. This month, his performances against India, Qatar and Bhutan earned plenty of praises from the coaches and supporters of the opponent teams. Jamal is currently captaining Chittagong Abahani Limited as a loanee in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup, and on the eve of his side’s inaugural game, the Bangladesh captain gave a long interview to Dhaka Tribune Saturday. Here are the excerpts:

You speak Bangla more fluently than before...

I don’t think about this.

Some people in India are saying Jamal is not Bangladeshi, he cannot speak Bangla. Does this hurt you?

I have Bengali parents. Same for Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Thiago [Alcantara]. I speak five languages – Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, English, Bengali. My parents always speak Bangla at home. I learnt Bangla more here. I don’t have any issues of communication now, despite my broken Bangla.

When did your parents move to Denmark?

My grandfather, Khushi Bhuiyan, came to Denmark in 1963. My father came in 1967 and my mother came in 1971. My father used to have a fabric manufacturing company. Then he bought a supermarket which he ran for three decades. I was born and raised in Copenhagen. 

You scored a goal against FC Copenhagen when you were playing for your first youth club Brondby IF…

After scoring the goal against FC Copenhagen, I was signed by them two days later. It was not because I scored a goal but for my performance. I always wanted to move to Copenhagen because that’s the biggest team in Denmark. I was 14 at that time. 

The incident when you got shot, did it happen after signing for Copenhagen? Tell us something about it…

It was in 2007 and I was 16/17 at that time. I was on my way home from school. The area I grew up in was not a good area, but I felt safe as I grew up there. That day a guy told me to go home early, but I did not realize the danger. After a few minutes I was shot four times. I had one shot on the elbow, one in the lower belly and two by the side of the body. I was in coma for two days. I stayed at the hospital for three/four months. I started playing again 14 months later.

Did you think at that time that you would play again?

No, I thought I would give up playing football. The level of football in Denmark is very high among young people. So I thought I should get good education as I was not able to play football. But I had some talk with my youth coach, Johnny Larsson, he told me to try again. He’s a good friend of Nicklas Bendtner. Before moving to Arsenal, Bendtner was in Copenhagen. Thomas Delaney played with me. 

I started to play again. I started training after seven months of the incident. I lost 14 kilos during that period. I could not eat anything at the hospital. I was given food through my neck.

Does this memory haunt you?

It will always be a sad memory for me. I had lots of nightmares after that. I always thought what if I’d not gone to that street, why didn’t I go to the shop instead of going to that place. 

Did it impact your football career?

It impacted a lot because at the time in FC Copenhagen I was one of the best. They wanted me to go to the senior team and there were also other clubs, they were asking about me. I was in a very good period. So for me, it was very sad, I cried a lot but I had to accept it. 

How long did you stay at FC Copenhagen?

I stayed there for two years before moving to another club at Hellerup IK, a first division club, where I started to play senior football.

Did you always play in the same position in defensive midfield? What is the reason you chose to play in this position?

I don’t know, I just like it to be in the middle. You get the ball a lot. I feel more comfortable in the middle. 

When was the first time you got the call from Bangladesh?

That was 2011. Titu (then national team coach Saiful Bari Titu) emailed me after seeing video of me. When I came to Bangladesh I didn’t know anybody. So I was may be little bit naive when I came. I returned to Denmark and after I came back again, I only thought about myself and my game. I didn’t have any feeling of journalists and players said anything to me. I was like ice cool. After that the journey just began. 

How did you tackle the humidity during your first trial in Bangladesh and adjust with the food and weather here?

It was hard time for me because weather was totally different. It was very humid; I had to drink a lot of water. I had some problems when I came second time also, but I had to go through this period because I didn’t think it would change. If I couldn’t learn it then I would never play for Bangladesh. I had to go through this and became successful because I joined Sheikh Jamal DC. I won everything with Sheikh Jamal so from first time to second time here, a lot of changes had happened to me.  

Do you have leadership skills?

I hope I have leadership skill. The people think I am one of leaders in the national team. The young players always listen to me. They always listen carefully when I tell them something. That’s the good thing about the national team now. You have lot of young players who are very hungry to do something good for the national team. That is one of the reasons why the national team is doing so well at the moment.

How are you enjoying the limelight?

I don’t know really because I don’t watch TV and read news much. I don’t really know how to respond to it but I’m just happy that people are happy with my performance.

You made your national team debut in 2012. What are the improvements you have made in your game since then, and what are the weaknesses you overcame?

I’m making better decisions now than I used to. It’s hard to tell what my weakness is, and what my strengths are, but I’m good at set-pieces, good at playing the ball, reading the game and overall vision of the game. My set pieces are becoming better because I practice more set-pieces now after practice. After every practice, I practice by myself for 10-15 minutes. My diet has also changed, I don’t eat sweets and don’t drink coke. My weakness is that I don’t score so many goals.

What was the impact like after becoming captain of the national side in 2018?

The impact is that, now I’m more worried about decisions, I have to check. When I’m on the pitch, I know I have to talk and guide the players. But it was not my job before. But when you are captain, it’s different. You have to tell players you have to do that and you don’t have to do that. I didn’t care about that before I was made captain. You are more on the spotlight when you are captain. I’m now more aware that, if the team fail, I’m going to be on the front line. The young players always listen carefully when I tell them something. That’s the good thing about the national team now. You have lot of young players who are very hungry to do something good for the national team. That is one of the reasons why the national team are doing so well at the moment.  

Don’t you think your performance has also improved after becoming captain?

Yes, but the team also changed, like, so many new and young players joined since then. Jamie Day also changed things a lot and he has been very important for us. He is not like the other coaches who were a little bit afraid to tell the organization what they really want. Jamie always said to BFF what he wants.

What are the other changes Jamie brought to the side?

Jamie added discipline, diet, fitness, regular check-ups and the way we play, which is also totally different. He knows what are the players’ strengths and what are their weaknesses in the team. Jamie is a young coach and he has played football before so he knows what a footballer feels, and he knows how to tell them something in a good manner, because if you have not played before you don’t know how a player feels after the game. Under Jamie, we just stand in our half, wait for the other team to make a foul and we go for counter attacks. We got better results with Jamie.  

Bangladesh’s game improved a lot in the last 14 months. What are the areas of improvements in your opinion?

We don’t concede many goals any more. We know how to defend than before but that is also for Jamie because he trained us a lot, how we should defend and how we should attack. We didn’t do that before. It’s also very positive that there is too much competition right now in Bangladesh team because we now have 22 to 26 players who can be in the starting XI. Bishwanath [Ghosh] has been in the starting XI for so long but then Rayhan [Hasan] came and he did good in practice and coach chose him. Topu [Barman] and [Atiqur Rahman] Fahad are injured, then [Riyadul Hasan] Rafi and Sohel [Rana] came in. we have a good group of players who can perform. So there is a healthy competition going on.

How proud were you as Bangladesh almost won the game against India?

The goals we conceded were due to lack of concentration, like one or two players were not standing where they were supposed to stand. We talked about that after the game. I was very frustrated after the game, I was very angry because it was like losing the game for me. But I felt very proud of the team as well. We had good chances but that’s the problem we have, that we can’t score goals and everybody knows that.

Have you received any offer from the Indian clubs after that?

People (two clubs from Indian Super League including Minerva Punjab) had asked me about my status and my club’s situation if I’m in contract. There was one guy who told to me that Sunil Chhetri played so bad and he was out of the match because of me. I said, “Thank you for your compliment.”

How does it feel to get only a point from the first three matches against Afghanistan, Qatar and India as Bangladesh were close to a draw or win on each occasion?

Against Afghanistan we should have won. Against Qatar also we should have got at least one point. Qatar had less shots on goal than us. We had bigger chances. Against India we were unlucky. Sometimes it is frustrating (not getting point due to lack of finishing). But it is your team, man, and you have to respect them.

What is the secret behind such performances?

When I spoke to the players I told them like, if you play good in the World Cup qualifiers, then other clubs and countries will be looking, and this is a great opportunity to show the world that Bangladesh can also play competitive football. So when you go into these matches, you have to be serious in practice, don’t fool around, listen to what the coach has to say, follow his instructions and if we do that, we can make good results.

Can Bangladesh repeat the same performance during the rest of the fixtures of the World Cup qualifiers?

I think Qatar and Oman are the two strongest teams, close to each other. The next match will be tough for us. But we still have a home match against Afghanistan and India. So I think we can get some points.

Now your career is based fully in Bangladesh, do you go back to Denmark often?

Whenever I have vacation I go back to Denmark because I stay here alone. My parents and two elder brothers live in Denmark. I only have uncles and aunties in Bangladesh. 

What was your parents’ response when you came to play for Bangladesh?

My father said you should go there and make a big name for yourselves and when you end your football career, you will look back and be satisfied for what you have done for Bangladesh. But my mother was more worried and she said, “Why don’t you stay and continue education here?” 

Are your parents proud of you now?

I hope they are. They don’t say much, and I don’t speak football at home. 

Do you feel more Bangladeshi now than before?

I always felt Bangladeshi. Now I feel more at home.

Where do you see Bangladesh football in two or three years?

I think Bangladesh football will be better. Players are more serious now, companies are more serious. I see a bright future.