The interview was published in the monthly Sports Tribune Magazine in March
A momentous event unfolded in the Bangladesh football scene recently as Mirona Khatun, a former national women’s team player, became the first female tactician to lead a men’s football team. The Bangladesh Navy athlete was appointed coach of Dhaka City Football Club on December 24 last year after achieving her B license under the AFC Coaching Courses programme. Mirona gave an exclusive interview to Ali Shahriyar Bappa of Dhaka Tribune where she talked in details about her journey so far in the football arena, her playing and coaching career, and her future goals, among other topics. Here are the excerpts:
You’re the first ever female head coach of a men’s team in Bangladesh. How is the feeling?
I have received so many positive responses so far. I did not expect such a positive response after I became the first female coach of a men’s team (in this country). There is no negative response at all thus far. My team, the management, the players, all are supporting me very well. I am really happy and excited to become the first ever female coach of a men’s football team (in Bangladesh). And I am also thankful to the management of Dhaka City who have given me this opportunity, and full support, to become a coach.
How did you start? What brought you into coaching?
Actually, I work for Bangladesh Navy. I was a football player, and I played for the Bangladesh team. Also, I was a national athlete. I gave prominence in both sectors. When I was doing a job in Navy, I was a little bit away from football for three years. I completed my C license in 2013. (Mahfuza Akter) Kiron apa gave us the opportunity to complete the C license. After that, our technical director Paul [Thomas] Smalley arranged a schedule for the local coaches. He believes that if the local coaches are not nurtured, then good players will not be found, or be trained properly. That motivated me to go and complete B license. Since I had the C license, I was selected for B license coaching. I applied while I was in Navy. If I wanted to take a long-time leave from Navy, I’d have had to inform my authority. I was also a member of the Sports Control Board. The secretary of that Board was aware that I was doing my B license. After some time, he asked me whether I completed my B license, and I told him that I have completed it. After that, the Navy chief formed this club (Dhaka City) in a very short time. The approval for the club, registration, player collection and coach selection were done within a short period of time. We have Aminur Rahman Nannu sir as a coach in this club. He has been coaching in the Dhaka league for around 40 years. He was selected as a coach but he has C license. But according to Fifa bylaws, the head coach must be at least a B license holder. Since I completed the B license, the club offered me to take the role of head coach. It was also really helpful for me to start my coaching career with Nannu sir as he is a very experienced coach, and was also a national player. We divide our sessions during training.
What inspired you to become a coach?
After sometime I realised that if I learn coaching then it might help me in future. There are many female coaches abroad who are working with male and female teams. Even when we traveled abroad for playing, we have seen that the entire coaching staff of a female team are female. From such incidents I took inspiration, if they can do it, why not me? Then I thought that I will join coaching and one day, I will become the Bangladesh team head coach. The current coaches we have, they will become old someday. Then, a younger generation has to fill their void. If we can do proper coaching courses then we can continue their good work, and even help Bangladesh football to advance further. That’s what inspired me to become a coach.
Any local coach who was your mentor?
I always follow Choton sir (Golam Rabbani Choton). He is really inspiring to me. Even in my playing days, when he used to instruct me or any other player from the dugout to do something in the field, it always gave me satisfaction when I used to play better, and did something for my team. I will never forget the experience of playing under him.
Any foreign coach who has inspired you?
There are quite a few. But I admire Smalley the most.
Are you following foreign leagues like the EPL or La Liga?
I watch all the highlights. All the goals, match situations, and highlights on YouTube. Since I have practice sessions very early in the morning, and I also have to conduct training sessions for the team, I can’t watch the late night games live.
Favourite club or player abroad?
I support Barcelona, and also like Liverpool. And among players, two are my favourite. They are Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah.
How did your football career start?
I started my career in 2008 through Citicell National Championship at this ground (Kamalapur Stadium). I played for Khulna in Dhaka during that tournament. Then I was selected for the national team, and thus my career began.
Which position did you play in?
I played as a midfielder.
Why did you leave football?
I left football in 2017. I was involved in both athletics and football. I was doing a good job as an athlete, and it was tough to continue both. That’s why I left football eventually.
What about athletics?
I was involved in athletics since 2008 to 2015-16. I achieved gold medals in 800m, 1500m and 3000m middle-distance running events. Later, I had a good offer from Navy, and then I joined there as an employee.
You’re the first female coach. What’s your suggestion to the young girls to improve themselves as a player?
We experienced tough times back in our days. Now players are facing fewer difficulties comparatively, because they are in the camps for a long time, almost for three years. But in our time, we could have joined that camp for around 15-20 days only. Even today, in age-level women’s football, they get plenty of chances to play international matches all around. So my thinking is - if we achieved something after getting less facilities and chances, then why should they not come forward? My suggestions to the young girls out there are: Work hard, practise hard and continue your studies as well, because studying is also important in life along with performance.
What’s your suggestion to a young woman footballer who aspires to become a coach like you in future?
Players who have played with me, who have raised the flag of our country abroad, they have worked really hard to make the statement that women can also be successful in football. Maybe they are not in the limelight now. Among them, those who are doing B license of coaching, as a well wisher I hope they will come forward like me and taste some success.
Any footballer who was your role model?
When I came to the national team, one player was my role model. Her name is Suinu Pru Marma. I really liked her way of playing. Her power, dribbling and other skills were excellent. When she played, I always used to watch her with so much respect. She is currently working as a coach in the women’s team under BFF. She had also done B license, she is yet to receive her certificate but hopefully will get it soon.
What skills are needed to become a good footballer? What’s your advice for the youngsters?
Discipline and maintaining fitness are important. Proper diet is also necessary. Along with talent or skills, you have to follow the process to become fit. Whenever you are, may be at home or club or in the hostel, you have to maintain that discipline by yourself. And skill-wise, you need to improve several things like speed, strength, endurance and stamina, among other things. If anyone follows the discipline and improves these skills, then he or she can become a good footballer.
What’s your aim with Dhaka FC?
I am enjoying my role here. It’s really challenging. We have some good players in our squad. Hopefully we will able to get the team promoted to the premier league. Then, I will get the chance to coach in the premier league.
What’s your ambition as a coach?
Once I become experienced in coaching I will try to become the coach of the Bangladesh team. Obviously, I need to perform well as a coach to achieve that. That’s my dream.
Name: Mirona Khatun
Age: 26 years
Father’s name: Abdul Goni
Siblings: Three brothers, three sisters
• Mirona has won gold medals in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m disciplines.
• She has won 13 medals in the National Athletics.
• During her football days, she was scouted by a cricket coach - Imtiaz Hossian Pilu.
• Her breakthrough came in 2008 when she took part in the CitiCell Cup. She played for Khulna and was adjudged player of the series.
• C license completed in 2013, B license done in 2018.
• Mirona also played in the Maldives League alongside Sabina Khatun
Mohammad Shamsuddoza Khan Tuhin, Dhaka City FC GS
This is probably the only case in south Asia now. Mirona [Khatun] is a very talented young coach. We selected her as our head coach after thinking neutrally. While hiring her as our main coach, we did not consider anything like who is male or female. We took our decision according to merit. There are many coaches in our country who have completed B license. Definitely, they have completed their B license with their own calibre. With due respect to everyone, I believe Mirona is special among them, and her talent is on another level.
We also did another groundbreaking thing recently. On behalf of Dhaka City Football Club, we sponsored the Summer Athletics last year. They maybe faced problem arranging the event, with regards to the funding issue. We came forward as a sponsor. We are not focusing on football only, we want to develop sports in our country.
We have also plans to establish a football academy soon. Already the work has started to establish it. It will be established on the bank of Sitalakhhya river. We have a long-term plan to hunt talented footballers from a very young age, say 15. We will train and prepare them to be better players. If we can nurse a young player for about seven-eight years, then we might find good quality of footballers who can contribute for the Bangladesh team, or even in club football at home and abroad.