Dhaka Tribune interviewed Kazi Salahuddin at his personal office on the eve of the much talked about election and the BFF boss was in the mood to express his feelings about many issues
Different platforms of social media have been bombarded with trolls, criticisms and hate speeches towards Kazi Salahuddin in the last one month ahead of Saturday's much-anticipated election, but the Bangladesh Football Federation president does not think those will harm his reputation and popularity.
He instead uttered sheer confidence of winning another term for the office thanks to his achievements and efforts over the last 12 years at the hot seat of the BFF.
Some unprecedented success stories for both the men’s (Olympic team at the 2018 Asian Games) and women’s (AFC U-17 Championship) teams, as well as the Bangladesh Premier League clubs (Abahani Limited at the 2019 AFC Cup) were written in last four years during Salahuddin's third-term at the helm.
The number of competitions, top-flight clubs and venues also increased, but the vitriol has snowballed over the past few days, especially with regards to the senior team’s repeated failures to win any international tournament and their consequent drops in the Fifa ranking.
Salahuddin repeatedly termed those trolls organized, intentional and “professional anti-campaign” to influence the polls.
The federation also issued legal notice to the social media offenders but was ineffective to stop the facebook critics.
The three-time BFF supremo gave a pause when asked if it was his toughest time, to which he replied back subtly, “Election is always tough. I don’t know whether it is good or tough time, but it’s one of a kind.
“When I first came to BFF, there was no league. Footballers were protesting against the federation. I told one thing, I would make sure football rolls on the pitch. A total of 12 leagues, 12 Federation Cups and 12 Independence Cups in the last 12 years – that is what I promised when I took charge.
“Back at that time, footballers used to get Tk2-3 lakhs per season each. They now earn Tk60-70 lakhs. So I think I’m very happy to do my job successfully.”
Dhaka Tribune interviewed Salahuddin at his personal office on the eve of the much talked about election and the BFF boss was in the mood to express his feelings about many issues.
The income of the premier league players increased significantly, but their performances have not followed the same upward graph.
Salahuddin explained, “The players stay in the clubs. They don’t stay with me. I only get them for national team 10-15 days before the games or competitions. Players must perform. President can’t play their game. I can only organize games. Players have to realize they have to work more to upgrade the standard. Players and clubs are equivalent, they have their responsibilities. When their standard gets better it will reflect on their performance for the national team.
“When the responsibility of federation, players and clubs – these three things align properly, only then you get the results. I wouldn’t say it is not happening but it should be better. It’s a process and it will take time. If you look at the recent performance, the national team have been doing well, especially against India, Qatar.”
When queried where Bangladesh were located in that “process”, he elucidated, “It’s in the beginning stage. It took South Korea 30-35 years and Japan 30 years. They have lots of corporate houses. These are coming to our country. I think if this process continues, we will get a solid result in the next five-seven years,” said Salahuddin who turned into 66 a few days ago.
Long ago during his second term as BFF chief, Salahuddin set a vision to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
He realized over time that this goal is still too far away from being achieved.
Let alone the World Cup, he was asked, how long it may take to play the Asian Cup.
“I’m not a magician. There is no magician in football. You have to follow a process. Then you get the results. We have started the process. There is no time limit or deadline. All have to work together. It’s a team work,” said a determined looking Salahuddin.
“What you need is – federation, players, clubs, government, media, public and corporate houses, all have to be united, and it has to become a family. When this family works together, it will take 10-15 years to reach the top level in Asia.”
The BFF president faced backlash from two vice-presidents, part of his previous panel that won the 2016 election, who are now contesting against him Saturday.
Badal Roy and Mahiuddin Ahmed left him midway through the 2020 election campaigning.
“Of course it left an impact. Now I have experience. If I get my full panel elected then I can control it and work. If panel breaks down I can’t take their responsibility,” said Salahuddin.
Salahuddin has also been leading the south Asian regional body simultaneously as the president of South Asian Football Federation for last 12 years.
“It’s the same responsibility of the federation of a president, which is to organize tournaments properly and bring finances. When I became Saff president, there was only one tournament, now we have six tournaments every year. That is why they selected me president for three terms.”
Two big loopholes in Bangladesh football is not having a full-fledged academy and complete stadium equipped with modern facilities.
BFF initiated an academy project during Salahuddin’s second term but it didn’t see the light due to financial limitation.
It managed a sponsor last year to initiate an academy project with a couple of age-group teams.
When asked about this issue, Salahuddin replied, “Who will give me money? And it’s not the federation’s responsibility.”
“It’s a big problem,” he said while talking about the absence of modern stadium, adding, “We have informed the government, they can do it. I’m trying to convince the government to provide us two to four stadiums. We can only try, what else can we do?”
Against all odds and criticisms, one of the most celebrated footballers of country’s history, and the youngest member of the Swadhin Bangla Football Team, is likely to anchor the country's football boat once again.
What inspires him to continue?
“Football is in my blood, the country too. I went to war at the age of 16. I can’t leave football at this stage. I have to fight and take football to a certain stage before I leave so that whoever comes after me can carry on,” said Salahuddin.
“I have worked for 12 years to build a basement for football. Now the time is to raise the building but it will not take same duration as before. Football is now balanced and stable. You will see the outcomes in the next four years.”
Whether Salahuddin will stay put or not will be known after the BFF Elective Congress 2020 Saturday where he is contesting for the fourth straight time, this time against two other president candidates, Badal and Shafiqul Islam Manik.