Kazi Nabil Ahmed in an interview with Dhaka Tribune said the improvements the national football team have made in their last term are satisfactory
On October 15, 2019, a full-house crowd at historic Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata was cheering and expecting to see host India win and continue their pursuit of bigger dreams in the footballing world.
India, the undisputed topper in South Asia, was expected to rout its neighbor Bangladesh in that Fifa World Cup and Asian Cup joint qualifying match, but the men in red and green had other ideas.
A brilliant goal from Saad Uddin, a young talent from Sylhet, gave the visiting side the lead. A late goal, only a couple minutes off the stipulated 90 minutes, barely salvaged the game for the hosts with a score of 1-1.
Lower ranked Bangladesh was agonizingly close to winning and India seemed relieved with a draw, was a huge statement and the best thing was it was not a fluke but the clear sign of the gradual improvement of Bangladesh national team.
In the joint qualifying rounds a few days later, Bangladesh faced Qatar, a footballing powerhouse in the continent, and host of the forthcoming World Cup 2020. The battle was expected to be completely one-sided, yet Bangladesh played valiantly to contain the opponent to just one goal before conceding another one in injury time proving the side is ready to show their mettle even against the biggest names.
Flashback to four years ago. October 2016 saw Bangladesh football reached its nadir.
Bangladesh not only lost to Bhutan, the lowest-ranked Saff nation, but also failed to qualify among the top 36 teams of the continent, losing its chance to play at a top level of international football.
After an agonizing 17 months without a truly competitive game, the national team gradually crawled out of pitch-black darkness to a sunny meadow of hope and that light was illuminated at Salt Lake.
Taking the tough challenge of rearranging the team, assigning young and energetic management and players, was the key. Kazi Nabil Ahmed, chairman of the national team management committee led the resurrection from the front.
The world ranking of the side, however, did not improve a great deal. The incumbents of the Bangladesh Football Federation also received a barrage of lampooning and criticism ahead of the BFF election, scheduled to take place Saturday.
But BFF's three-time vice-president Nabil believes the improvements they have made in their last term are satisfactory, and wants to continue the progress through the global ranking ladder.
He thinks the combined panel, or the Sammilito Parishad under Kazi Salahuddin, who has been at the helm of BFF for the last 12 years, will be best for the country’s football. He is hopeful of being elected along with the panel once again.
Dhaka Tribune interviewed Nabil and here are excerpts:
What are your thoughts about the election?
This election is very exciting and competitive. I believe the Salahuddin-led committee will do well. There will be tough competition for the vice-president post which I’m contesting. All the candidates are capable. They have worked for different clubs and federations before. I hope voters will make the right decision so we can take our game forward in the coming days.
Any personal goal if you get elected again?
Nothing personal. I’m part of a panel. The programs in the manifestos are my programs. If I get elected again and get the same responsibility, I will try to execute them and continue what we have been doing.
How do you evaluate the national team?
There have been some good performances by the national team in recent times. We stumbled at the beginning after losing against Bhutan. It was very challenging and humbling, but we came back. I thought we should rebuild the national team from scratch and that’s what we did. We now are seeing the results in the last two years. I myself went to London to hire Jamie Day [National team coach] because he had a background working for an academy. Our youth team beat Qatar. We could beat India in Salt Lake last year but came to a match draw. We lost to Qatar and Oman at home and abroad, but we played well.
Bangladesh’s position in the ranking paved the way for vitriol at the same time. The manifesto has set a target of reaching the 150-mark as well as the final of the Saff Championship within four years. How realistic is this?
We are working on developing the team by setting a target. We keep the players in training despite the Covid-19 situation and observe them individually by Whatsapp, email, and video messages. Our current ranking is 187. It will improve if we go forward strategically with our plans right now. We have to select the right players, train them, and play against teams proportionately competitive against us.
Now the national team is not dependent on tournaments only. Iit has to play Asian Cup and World Cup qualifying matches. We haven’t had any success in Saff Championships in the last 10 years. Sometimes we were unlucky, conceded goals at the last minute for a draw, and couldn’t reach the semi-finals for one or two points. If we get the opportunity to play two Saff Championships in four years, of course we have to set a target of playing the semi-finals and finals.
Frequent change of head coach was a common phenomena. Day is going to be the longest serving man (uninterruptedly) in the job after extending the contract for two more years. How did it happen?
It’s sad that we couldn’t hold a coach for the long term before. We learnt from that and the committee is working accordingly. Day’s performance is satisfactory. He keeps the players in a fighting spirit and has built a good relationship with them. We have achieved some good results with him. I think if we keep the consistency of the coaching staff, it will bring stability among players and deliver better results. He has also grown a good sense for Bangladesh, its players, and the teams we play against. We didn’t want to lose this advantage. That’s why we have engaged him again.
Many fresh and young faces have been included in the national team in the last two years, and some of them have performed beyond expectation against higher-ranked opponents. Do these players give you hope?
These players are the harvest of our work. That is why I wanted us to start fresh with a new coach who has academy training experience. They are performing well. We expect better results from them when they gather more experience.