Kazi Mohammed Salahuddin may have fulfilled the role of President of the Bangladeshi Football Association (BFF) for the past three years now, but the former player’s passion for football in his country remains as strong as ever. During a visit to the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Thursday 1 December, he met up with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
“We discussed measures that could be taken to further develop football in Bangladesh,” the player-turned-executive told FIFA.com. “President Blatter is very positive about FIFA’s capacity to help my country,” he added.
Salahuddin is a veritable star in his homeland. Captain of the national team from 1975 to 1979, he is one of the very few Bangladeshi players to have plied his trade abroad in a professional league, spending season 1975/76 at Hong Kong outfit Caroline Hill FC.
Since his retirement as a player in 1984, the ex-international has been fully focused on boosting the popularity of the game in Bangladesh - a tough challenge in a country where cricket rules supreme, but one he is willing to tackle head-on nonetheless.
“During my playing days in Bangladesh, we used to perform in front of 50,000 fans. Then cricket managed to get the upper hand. But since I became President of the BFF, there’s been an increase in the number of supporters attending matches,” he pointed out.
When I said that I wanted to bring Lionel Messi to play in Dhaka, people back home thought I had my head in the clouds, or that I had gone a little crazy.
Salahuddin is aware that the key to achieving progress lies in simple economics. “We need funds to develop our sport – it’s as straightforward as that. But we also have to increase awareness of the game, so that more young people begin to play, and so that we can attract sponsors,” explained the official.
As far as Salahuddin I concerned, providing young people with the right infrastructure and proper training is also essential. “We’re going to open a football academy in the next couple of months. It’ll have a capacity of 200, and will be looking to attract top young players,” he said.
“That’s where FIFA can help us out, with some assistance within the academy: coaches, or a technical director, for example,” continued the 58-year-old. Bangladesh has already reaped the benefits of two of FIFA’s Goal projects, which enabled the creation of the national FA’s head offices (opened in 2005) and the installation of a nearby artificial pitch, as well as the ongoing construction of a technical centre in Dhaka.
The overall aim is for the Bangladeshi national team to improve its performances and to regain a prominent position in the Asian Zone. “My goal is to get Bangladesh back into the top 15 of the Asian section of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking,” stated Salahuddin. "And then to slowly but surely work our way towards the summit. It’s quite a realistic objective, really."
While his ambitions may be based in reality, he also likes to dream up plans that are often met with some initial scepticism. Such as the idea of persuading Lionel Messi to appear in Bangladesh, for example. “Everything starts with a dream. When I said that I wanted to bring Lionel Messi to play in Dhaka, people back home thought I had my head in the clouds, or that I had gone a little crazy,” recalled the former striker.
“But I managed it – a full-strength Argentinian national team came to take part in a friendly against Nigeria in September of this year. It was a huge event and a massive boost to the development and popularity of the game in our country. Like I said, you should always start with a dream."