This article was published in the August issue of Sports Tribune magazine
It was Veni, Vidi, Vici for the Bashundhara Kings who clinched the Bangladesh Premier League title in their debut season soon after they stepped into the country’s domestic football scenario through the pioneer league, only less than four years ago.
But it didn’t come as a fluke since the Kings showcased a grand approach and ambition while roping in some top-class players and members of their coaching staff at the beginning of the season.
Costa Rican forward Daniel Colindres highlighted the show as the only World Cup playing player in the leagues of this millennium also finished his debut campaign on a high note by being adjudged as the best player of the league that ran for seven and half months.
But it was not only Colindres, the Kings also enjoyed the service of the highest-paid local, foreign recruits and coaching staff led by Maldives domestic treble winning Spanish head coach Oscar Bruzon.
Patronized by one of the largest conglomerates of the country, the Bashundhara Group, the club showed professionalism in many aspects that had been quite absent among the majority of the other premier league clubs, like, ensuring better training facilities and preparing a new home venue in Nilphamari which is far away from the club location.
To mention an small example, there is an official gift and merchandise shop at the club premises which one may have seen in some other countries but not in Bangladesh before.
Colindres, Kyrgyzstan’s high-profile versatile midfielder Baktyiar Duishobekov and Brazilian striker Marcos Vinicius shone on multiple occasions along with top local recruits like Motin Mia, Emon Mahmud, Masuk Mia Jony, Nasir Uddin Chowdhury, Nurul Naim Faisal and Anisur Rahman Zico to ensure the league title with a couple of games in hand.
Guided by club president and a former player of the club Imrul Hasan, BFF’s former technical and strategic director Bayazid Alam Zubair Nipu, former national assistant coach Mahabub Hossain Roksy and Spanish fitness coach Javier Sanchez Flores also played important roles off the pitch.
I am glad to disclose on the day of my birthday that I have extended my relationship with Bashundhara Kings for one more season.— Oscar Bruzon (@obruzon) May 29, 2019
I would like to thank the Coaching Staff, Players, Management and Fans for your solid trust and continuous support. #BashundharaKings 🔴#BorntoBeat pic.twitter.com/5ksxVc9xHA
The presence of an ambitious club like Bashundhara provided a new magnitude to the long league which saw the increase of foreign footballers than ever before following the addition of the Asian player quota as more than 50 foreign players featured for 13 clubs diminishing the dominance of ever-growing African players.
There were both benefits and drawbacks of such an increase as the foreigners filled up most of the key attacking positions, decreasing the playing opportunities for local forwards.
But there were a few exceptions in the shape of Nabib Newaj Jibon, Motin Mia, Toklis Ahmed who learned and improved their game, playing and training alongside the likes of Kervens Belfort, Colindres and Souleymane Diabate.
Jibon (17 goals) and Motin (11) are the only local players who managed to get into the top-10 scorers list led by Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra’s Nigerian striker Raphael Onwrebe (22) which has been a common scenario in most of the previous editions as well.
A total of 429 goals were scored out of which, 271 were netted by foreign players.
But there were also many new local faces who performed well in other positions like Saif Sporting Club’s young defender Yeasin Arafat, whose performance earned him a first call-up to the national team for their World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan in September.
Arambagh Krira Sangha midfielder Rabiul Hasan was adjudged as the best emerging player of the league who also beamed in the national jersey, scoring two goals against Cambodia and Laos this year.
Most of the clubs don’t have their own home venue yet this season, the league was played at six different venues, the highest in the history of the top-flight.
There were a few complaints against some venues like the one in Noakhali (belonging to Nofel Sporting Club and Team BJMC) for not having a proper dressing room and a suitable pitch but the ones in Nilphamari (Bashundhara) and Mymensingh (Arambagh and Saif) garnered praise too.
Like previous editions, there were too many breaks during the league as Baktyiar termed it sarcastically for having “too many pre-seasons” which became a challenge for the coaches.
Again, like the previous seasons, there were many complaints of fixed matches from club officials especially at the end of the league but without any official protest.
However, the three former premier league winners – Abahani Limited, Sheikh Russel and Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited – found it difficult to stay close in the title race against the Kings who conceded only one defeat throughout the league and that so in the very end.
The six-time professional league champion Abahani didn’t get the best service from their defence due to some injury setbacks but had one of the most threatening attacking line-ups while Sheikh Russel had one of the finest defence lines but lacked consistency up front.
Sheikh Jamal was nowhere near the race after forming an average squad with their lowest-ever budget and thus ended up with their lowest-ranked finish.
Fourth-placed Saif didn’t get the anticipated service from their foreign recruits and relied mostly on their young shoulders who a lacked experience.
Traditional powerhouse Mohammedan Sporting Club Limited had the worst start and finished 12th after the first phase but made a remarkable comeback in the second half after bringing in a new coach.
New Bangladesh Premier League champions Bashundhara Kings took another step in their bid to bolster their star-studded squad for the upcoming season by completing the signing of rising Lebanon International striker Mohamed Jalal Kdouh.https://t.co/WZwXBbYUEL— Dhaka Tribune Sports (@Sport_DT) September 3, 2019
Among the other clubs at the bottom half of the table, most of them lacked consistency throughout the league, some performed well in the first phase while some struggled in the latter.
An example of the Kings losing points against bottom-placed BJMC may give a shadow of idea about the competitiveness of the league.
Despite losing the top-tier title to the Kings, runners-up Abahani delivered some unprecedented international success this season.
The Sky Blues became the first club from Bangladesh to qualify for the knockout stages of the AFC Cup, the Asia’s Europa League, with a remarkable four wins, a draw and a defeat in the group stages when the league was on.
Even after the league ended, they carried the same form to the Inter-Zone semi-final as well by beating North Korean champion 4.25 SC in the first leg in a 7-goal thriller.
National team and Saif captain Jamal Bhuiyan also garnered international exposure but not on the pitch but when he commentated on some of the La Liga matches this season.
The upcoming season may bring more competitiveness in the league as the other bigger clubs now know what they need to do to give a real fight in the title race.
The new champions have already pledged to strengthen their existing squad with more quality signings before making their debut in the AFC Cup next season.