Interview: Alfaz Ahmed
‘No planning in our football, that’s the reality’
Alfaz Ahmed was one of the main figures of the 2003 SAFF Championship winning Bangladesh team. The former captain of the national team reminisced about the two-decade-old triumph and also spoke about the team’s chances in the upcoming SAFF Championship–
What was the main strength of that 2003 SAFF Championship winning team?
Our preparation was really good. Coach George Kottan spent two years to build that team. We had experienced players at every position. Most importantly, the team spirit was excellent. Every one of us was determined. The tournament was happening in our soil, we had to win.
What was it like playing under George Kottan?
Kottan was an excellent coach. He was one with the team. He used to listen to all our problems, would try to solve them. He was an inspirational coach. Coaches from overseas are very professional, they come here to do just a job. But Kottan considered Bangladesh’s success as his own. He emphasized on fitness. He wanted to ensure that the team could play at the same tempo throughout the 90 minutes.
What was your equation like with your attacking partner Rokunozzaman Kanchan?
Kanchan is a little younger than me, we played together many times in the domestic league. Both of us knew each other very well. Kanchan played really well in the 2003 SAFF. In the final, we took a lead with his goal.
You surely remember the thrilling tie-breaker in the final…
We were the better team in the final. We took the lead with Kanchan’s goal but they later equalised. We were all very tensed. But Kottan kept everyone’s spirits high. In the tie-breaker we were confident as we knew we had Aminul (goalkeeper).
Since the SAFF triumph in 2003, there have been no successes in men’s football. How do you see that?
20 years have passed. That’s a lot of time… We are still stuck in the SAFF. We had also played the final in the following SAFF in 2005, where we lost to India. We have not been successful because there is no plan about our football, that’s the reality. We haven’t been able to create new star footballers. Other countries have progressed with new ideas, we have regressed.
But the facilities for the national team has improved a lot…
That’s true, now more facilities are available. The 2003 SAFF winning team didn’t have a physio, a trainer or a specialist goalkeeping coach. We couldn’t play any international matches before the tournament to prepare for it. Now, Bangladesh plays international matches every year. The facilities have increased, which is a really good news. A plan spanning a minimum of 10 years needs to be prepared for the national team.
How do you rate the current national team?
The team has been playing together for many days. But regularly hiring and firing the coach hurts a team. Just see how many coaches have been hired for the national team in the past 10 years. The players try their level best. But they are lagging behind in terms of ability. The biggest problem in the team is that there is no one there to score goals. In our team, there was Kanchan and Moni (Saifur Rahman) who were adept at scoring goals. Before that, there was Nakib bhai, Rumi bhai, Aslam bhai. For many years, there has been no one who can score goals for the Bangladesh team.
Could they have solved the problem by picking Elita Kingsley in the team?
The coach has dropped him after giving it a lot of thought. The coach is the best judge. It’s not right to say something looking in from the outside. In the league too, Elita doesn’t play the whole 90 minutes. There are doubts over whether he has the fitness to play the entire match. If a player is not fit enough to play 90 minutes, it’s difficult for him to get selected for an international match.
What’s your advice on how to develop strikers?
I’ve said this before, in the domestic league every team flies in foreigners for the striker’s position. So, the locals don’t get an opportunity to play. That’s why the players don’t develop themselves for the striking position. The local footballers need to be given the opportunity to play as strikers in domestic football.
What are your expectations from this year’s SAFF Championship?
My well wishes are with the team, I hope they do well. But we also need to acknowledge the reality. Big teams like Kuwait, Lebanon are competing in the SAFF. India is also there. The Maldives are also a tough side. I want the team to take the field and fight with everything they have.
*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy