It is not often that a player scores a goal in the first half and watches the match from the stands in the second. But that was what Bangladesh’s Rakib Hossain did during his team’s 3-1 win against Bhutan, which sent the Bengal Tigers to the SAFF Championship semifinal after 14 years on Wednesday.
Hossain scored Bangladesh’s third goal with a solo run that ended with an accurate finish from a tight angle as the ball hit the inside of the far post and nestled into the back of the net. He followed it up with an energetic ‘Siiuu’, inspired by the trademark celebration of his favourite player - Cristiano Ronaldo.
Subbed off at the break, he was casually sitting in one of the empty bucket seats at the Sree Kanteerava stadium, cheering his team on just like he would if he was in the dugout.
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What was supposed to be a simple greeting turned out to be a full-blown chat as the player spoke about his entry into professional football, his love for street food and how he never intended to take up sports as a career option in the first place.
“I come from a middle-class family from Barishal (a city in south-central Bangladesh). Like every middle-class parent, my father wanted me to study and initially did not like the idea of my decision to pursue football. Now, he cheers the loudest when he watches me score a goal on TV,” Hossain told Sportstar.
Football was never a serious affair for Hossain during his budding years. In fact, his only exposure to football was at school, where he played as a midfielder. But seeing his natural talent at the game, the secretary of Hossain’s local ground asked him to move up the pitch and play as a forward.
Aided by two of his friends - Rakib and Sohel, who, according to Hossain, were his biggest motivators, the Bangladesh No.10 saw himself spending a lot of time with football, and before he knew it, he was called for trials to go professional.
Hossain plied his trade with clubs like Araf Sporting Club, Police Football Club and Victoria but did not make a senior appearance in those clubs.
His first senior appearance came for Rahmatganj Muslim Friends Society. From there, he went on to play for clubs like Chittagong Abahani Limited and Abahani Limited Dhaka. Currently, he plays for Dhaka-based club Basundhara Kings, which has been crowned champion of the Bangladesh Premier League for the past three seasons.
Basundhara and its professionalism
“Bangladesh er shob club Basundharar moton professional hole, desh er football er level onek bere jabe (If all the clubs in Bangladesh become as professional as Basundhara, then the collective level of Bangladeshi football will rise),” says Rakib when asked about his experience of playing for the club.
Hossain says that Basundhara is probably the only club that has moved with time and adapted to the modern approach that professional football demands.
From having its own stadium, proper funding, a strict dietary plan for players and ambition to attract top talents, Hossain believes that Basundhara is the epitome of how a club should be run in the present times.
“We have seen an overall dip in the level of football in Bangladesh. This has resulted in people losing interest in the sport with time. Earlier, there used to be a bigger crowd for football matches in Bangladesh. Nowadays, only derby matches like the one between Abahani Dhaka and Mohammedan attract large crowds.”
The national team needs support
The people of Bangladesh are on cloud nine right now at the moment, seeing their team qualify for the SAFF semis. But, for a long time, the national team did not provide the fans with any reason to be happy about it, and Hossain feels it is a big reason why his country’s people have grown distant from football in general.
“People in our country are passionate by nature. They are happy if we win and angry if we lose. I understand that fans would want reasons to celebrate and feel proud of their team. But we need their support. Look at how the popularity of cricket grew over the years with the people’s support.”
Bangladesh head coach Javier Fernández Cabrera also appealed for undeterred support from the country’s people and the media after the win against Bhutan and said that it is imperative – not just during the good times but also the bad.
Home is where the heart is
When the football season is over, when the dietary shackles come off, and Hossain’s service is not required by his club or country, nothing appeals to him more than going back home and spending time with his parents and the people he grew up with.
“My favourite hobby is to sit with my friends and give adda (chatting) over some nice street food,” which Hossain says is his “guilty pleasure.”
For Hossain, it has been a long journey, from his childhood days in Barishal to having his entire country’s eyes glued on him, waiting for his next piece of magic.
Amidst all the attention, the goals, and the never-ending camera flashes on his face, Hossain says nothing is more gratifying for him knowing that his parents and siblings watch all his matches on TV and cheer the loudest when he scores.
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