There was a time when Bangladesh supremely dominated Maldives on the footballing plain. But the roles have been reversed now. The change of fortune was quite evident when Bangladesh played an international friendly against the emerald island nation on their home turf where they suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat last year. And on Saturday Maldives extended their national team’s dominance to the club level when little-known Trust and Care Sports Club handed Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani a 1-0 defeat in the on-going Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup.
Although Maldives are still not a force to be reckoned with in Asia, but they have already reached a certain level in South East Asia with a group of talented footballers as well as the relentless efforts from some individuals in their country.
Mohammad Nizam, who guided TC Sports Club to the top tier in their domestic league, is one of those many cogs that took Maldives football forward.
“There are lots of individuals who love football and contribute to develop the game in Maldives. The federation is trying hard to develop the structure and facilities. Even the government is very much focused on football, helping all the way in term of fund, facilities, developing infrastructures, and providing other facilities the FA needs,” Nizam told this reporter yesterday.
Maldives are also getting technical assistants from Europe and Middle East apart from the regular funds they are receiving from AFC and FIFA.
The former left back of Maldives, for whom it was the fourth visit to Bangladesh and his second in the capacity as a coach, said that educated coaches are playing a major role in developing Maldives football.
“We have got approximately 1000 coaches including pro-license ones, who are really putting a lot of efforts from grassroot to the club levels. I will say they are playing the major role of Maldives’ football development. They are also getting financial supports from FA, Clubs and the government,” said the former national left-back of Maldives.
The number of coaches in Maldives is certainly astonishing considering it is a country of approximately 3.5 million people. And that figure is mind-boggling compared to what Bangladesh, a country of 170 million, have — 200 odd qualified coaches including 17 AFC A licensed coaches.
“Some 12 to 13 academies are being run in Maldives and there is big demand of football academy in Maldives. There are over 5000 footballers in those academies at the moment,” added Nizam, who has been involved in coaching for 14 years after retiring from the national team.
The 42-year-old coach observed that skills and speed of the players has improved a lot and that gives them the edge against their opponents.
“You know you need a certain quality to catch. The Maldives players are too quick and fast on the pitch and are very skillful though the players are physically behind,” said Nizam.
“I think we have some quality players and there are four to five who can replace Ali Ashfaq in future. Honestly, our new generation of players is more talented and I think we are in the right path to grow up,” added a confident Nizam.
Replying to a query on where Bangladesh are faltering, Nizam said: “When I came here as a player, I hardly saw any cricket bat or cricket field. Now I see cricket pitch next to every football ground. See in Sri Lanka, once we lost to them 5-0, 6-0 but now we do the same thing because cricket is catching everything [over there]. I think the same thing happened in Bangladesh.”
Nizam’s biggest disappointment in his fourth visit to Bangladesh was ‘the empty stands that surprised me’.
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