Despite having failed to impress in trials with Uttar Baridhara Club and Mohammedan SC, Gaibandha's Asif Raihan never gave up hope of playing in the big league in Dhaka. He tried with a third club, Brothers Union, and this time he has been selected in the initial trial.
Asif is one of approximately a thousand young booters who have come to Dhaka from all over the country to attend trials of different premier League clubs for the U-18 Championship, which will be held in September.
“I came from Gaibandha in pursuit of playing in the Dhaka league,” said the 17-year-old winger. “Despite failing in trials with Baridhara and Mohammedan, I never gave up hope, and thankfully, I have been selected by the Brothers Union. I hope I can get selected finally.”
There is no lack of enthusiasm among these young booters. They have one dream -- to find a gateway to the Dhaka clubs through this championship in pursuit of a footballing career.
However, the question is whether the clubs and the game's governing body have the same eagerness to give these youngsters a regular platform to flourish?
The answer is probably not.
The intention of introducing the youth championship, which started with the U-16 Championship in 2012-13 season, was to introduce a youth development programme among professional league clubs so that budding footballers can find an institution to be groomed. But apart from hastily arranging these trials and making do with the championship, there is hardly any initiative on the part of the clubs to invest in youth development.
Teams like Mohammedan, Muktijoddha Sangsad, Brothers Union and Uttar Baridhara have conducted trials to select their squads. But the remaining premier league clubs have assembled their squads in other ways while champions Sheikh Jamal have decided not to take part in the championship for a second consecutive season.
“To be honest, the clubs are not getting any benefit from the youth championship. It is the players who benefit because they are getting the opportunity to play for clubs in Dhaka,” believes Mohammedan youth team's coach Jasimuddin Joshi, who trained the club's U-16 team last season for nine months and reaped the reward by winning the U-16 championship title.
Muktijoddha Sangsad coach Shafiqul Islam Manik, who picked his 38 probables from an open trial with 350 players and 22 players from BKSP, thinks it is difficult from the clubs' perspective to form permanent youth squads.
“The clubs cannot run the youth development programme because most of the clubs in Dhaka don't have their own ground and dormitory. Besides, the clubs are not interested in getting good results at the youth level,” opined Manik.
Manik informed that he used Ibrahim, a product of the U-16 club tournament, in the premier league matches last season and he wants to sign up at least five players from the U-18 squad to the senior side for next season.
Both Manik and Joshi believe that if clubs invest in youth development, they can take a return of Tk 4 to 5 crore within a few seasons by selling these young players to other clubs once they become lucrative prospects.
Brothers Union manager Amer Khan feels that the clubs are not the only ones at fault here; the BFF should be more authoritative in imposing a regular guideline for the clubs in regards to youth football.
“The BFF should introduce a guideline for all professional league clubs making it imperative to have at least five U-19 players in their senior squad and force the clubs to field these young players for at least ten minutes for some five to eight matches so that they get the experience of playing alongside senior players,” opined Khan.
The organiser also believes that weekly or monthly football clinics with selected age-group teams should be run to groom future prospects.