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Story of Abahani’s goal-scoring defender

  • Published at 07:24 pm July 9th, 2019
Abahani players celebrate during their AFC Cup match against Manang in Kathmandu AFC

Being a defender, Masih Saighani scored three crucial goals during the Sky Blues’ memorable campaign in the AFC Cup group stage where they became the first club from Bangladesh to reach the knockout phase with four wins, a draw and a solitary loss

Born in Afghanistan, Abahani center-back Masih Saighani moved to Germany when he was only two years old. 

Saighani played as a forward for seven years during the early part of his playing career which, he believes, helped him in certain situations while donning an offensive role for his team. 

It is perhaps, one of the reasons behind the 32-year-old’s recent run of good form in which, he has become Abahani’s top-scorer in the AFC Cup thus far.

Being a defender, Saighani scored three crucial goals during the Sky Blues’ memorable campaign in the AFC Cup group stage where they became the first club from Bangladesh to reach the knockout phase with four wins, a draw and a solitary loss.

His injury-time header against Minerva Punjab in the last group stage match helped Abahani in sealing a knockout berth.

“I started playing football when I was eight or nine but only at the school, and with friends. When I started playing for a club, very late at 14 or so, I started out as a left winger and later on as a striker. I played on the forward line for seven years including four in academy and three years at senior stage which helps me when I take on an offensive role,” said Saighani to the Dhaka Tribune.

Saighani’s coaches wanted to switch his position from center-back to central defensive midfield after his regular forward role ended. 

Depending on the situation, and sometimes, even during his time with Aizawl FC in the I-League last season, he was put up front as a striker in the last 10-15 minutes of the game, particularly because of his height of 6 feet 2 inches, and his ability to deal with long balls.

The versatile defender was called up to the Afghanistan team for the first time in 2015, prior to their World Cup qualifiers against Japan. 

He made his debut during a friendly against Thailand and since then, he has featured for more than a dozen of international matches. 

But it was only back in 2017, when he experienced his first club football experience outside Germany when he signed for former I-League champion Aizawl.

After spending a season in India and now almost another in Bangladesh, Saighani drew a fair comparison.

“The way of football here is almost the same in India and the level is also comparable. But if you compare the facilities and stadiums, I must admit that India is a step ahead by now. But Bangladesh is a rapidly growing football country and I am sure that if they keep trying to improve, soon they will draw level,” the Afghan defender opined.

Since moving to Germany in 1989, Saighani said the migration helped him and his family to secure a new life with a different mentality and culture with football playing an instrumental role in helping him to adapt faster to his new surroundings. 

Saighani’s parents currently live in Frankfurt along with his three older brothers, while his younger sister lives with her husband in Hamburg.

Saighani, who played for around a dozen German clubs from 2004 to 2017, shared an unforgettable experience in Germany. 

“One story I will never forget was my first visit to a Bundesliga stadium in Frankfurt. Sixty seven thousand people singing, cheering and pushing their team, I was at the stands and was positively shocked by the fan culture German football has. That was an important point in my life that inspired me to work harder and become a professional football player,” Saighani reminisced.

Saighani said his biggest achievement has been to play almost 15 years without any serious injury, during which, he won the championship title in the fourth division in Germany, finishing runners-up in the 2015 Saff Championship with Afghanistan, winning the Federation Cup and qualifying for the AFC Cup inter-zone semifinal with Abahani.

“The most interesting and beautiful story so far happened here with Abahani when we qualified for the first time as a Bangladesh side for the AFC Cup semis,” said Saighani.

When asked about the reason behind Abahani’s unprecedented success in the AFC Cup this season, Saighani replied, “I felt every player gave absolutely everything on the pitch. Even in difficult moments, at least we were fighting and there was a good chemistry between foreigners and locals. We believed in ourselves and wanted to make history. With every game we won, it was a step closer. Our behavior and the way we played changed, and we felt confident, which made us stronger.”

Saighani also shared his thoughts about playing on muddy fields during the current monsoon season in Bangladesh, his time at the Dhaka club where he and Haitian teammate Kervens Belfort go out to dine almost every day, trying different restaurants, coffee shops, malls in Dhaka but also complained about the traffic that does not permit them to hang out far away in the city.

Saighani talked about his goal for the rest of the season. 

“My target is to perform and help my team to win the rest of the league matches. We will take every game one by one. We didn’t make it to the AFC Cup semis just by going and competing. We want to win these games and the club will work hard for that,” Saighani concluded.