The Bangladesh Premier League is all set to enter its 11th edition today when holders Abahani meet NoFel SC, but the country's top-flight professional football league continues to struggle to mould itself into a model based on professionalism despite starting its journey over a decade ago.
Acting on demands from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) introduced the professional football league in 2007 with the clear aim of improving the standard of the country's football as well as bringing professionalism among the clubs. But the objectives have not been met in the past decade despite the league being held 10 times from 2007 to 2018.
The standard of football has not improved in terms of either results of the national team or results of clubs at international tournaments. Simultaneously, footballers' wages have increased dramatically due to the dearth of quality players across the country.
The game's local governing body has attempted to fix the issues by introducing new rules every season for the past 11 years, even prolonging the season to 10 months of a year, but has failed to resolve any of the problems. They have even failed to set a specific timeframe for the league for each season, something the All India Football Federation has done with the I-League. Eventually, the league was also confined to Dhaka instead of being held on a home-and-away basis across multiple venues.
The BFF has even bowed down to demands from clubs by increasing the foreign players' quota time and again, although there have been strong demands for the reduction of that quota in order to give space to local players.
Speaking about what the country's football has received from the professional league over the last 10 editions, veteran coach Shafiqul Islam Manik said: "There are no tangible achievements to mention here except the holding of the league ten times. Professionalism is far off, both among the clubs and in the BFF. The clubs are allowed to progress in a relaxed way and they are enjoying it. The clubs don't have their own grounds or structure; they are playing the professional league in a single venue.
"The clubs have got a good idea what professionalism is over the past 10 years and the BFF should allow only those clubs who can meet the AFC Club licensing criteria to participate in a home-and-away based professional league," said Manik, who was involved with various top clubs until last season.
"It is a professional football league in name only because there have been no structural changes to the league. There has not even been a change in terms of standards due to the lack of quality local players," former national coach Golam Sarwar Tipu said. "The BFF must ensure the district leagues [are staged] regularly to make a strong pipeline and provide players for the professional football league."
"Are we professional? No. You never see a football season last 10 months, but it does in Bangladesh. Why can't we fix dates for the league? Why can't we avail home-and-away benefit? Because the BFF always looks after the interest of big teams, thus putting smaller clubs in trouble," said Amer Khan, the long-serving manager of Brothers Union.
However, the good news is that the league has returned to a home-and-away format, with six venues hosting the 13 teams. It is also expected that the league will be more competitive as clubs will have to deal with more partisan crowds during away matches.