Ali Ashfaq -- a name that evokes admiration and inspiration in equal measure. In the context of South Asian football, he is a giant, with a career adorned by many an accolade. Ashfaq has been playing for the Maldives national team for such a long time and has such an excellent record in front of goal -- the 30-year-old forward has scored 46 times in 104 international matches in a career spanning 11 years and he also holds the highest scorer's record in the SAFF Championships with 20 goals -- that it seems he would never stop scoring. But to everyone's surprise, just ahead of the current SAFF campaign, Ashfaq announced that this would be his last SAFF appearance even though he will continue his club career. While talking to Bangladeshi media at the Taj Hotel in Trivandrum yesterday, Ashfaq elaborated on his plans for post-retirement life, reflected on his glittering career and spoke of his love for Bangladeshis.
Q: You said a few days ago that this would be your last appearance at the SAFF Championships. Have you set any deadline for retirement from international football?
AA: I've already decided that this will be my last SAFF even though I haven't decided on the timing yet. That might be after the last World Cup qualifier next year.
Q: You're only 30 years of age. Why would you retire at this age, especially when you are going great guns, both at international and club level?
AA: Well I've taken the decision because I know the future of Maldives football is bright and there are young players coming up who will be able to replace me.
Q: You're only retiring from international football. But have you made any plans about what you will do once you retire from the game altogether?
AA: I haven't planned anything that way but I would surely not go for coaching or managing teams. I have my own real estate business in Male which I have been running for 10 years. So I will get more time to concentrate on my business.
Q: Since you are in the real estate business, you must know quite a few Bangladeshis.
AA: Oh yes, there are a lot of Bangladeshis in Male. In fact I have quite a few employees from Bangladesh in my business. Bangladeshis are nice people.
Q: Talking of Bangladesh, you have played against their team many times. Any memorable moments from those matches?
AA: The goal I scored against them the last time [2011 SAFF Championship] was a special goal.
Q: What do you make of the current Bangladesh team?
AA: I think this new-look Bangladesh team is the best that I have played against, and I'm not kidding. Their passing is good and they are good technically, but I thought they were unlucky with the results. The three players in midfield are a cut above the others.
Q: When Maldives won the title in 2008, you were named the most valuable player. How gratifying was that experience?
AA: That was the most memorable moment of my career. This time, being the captain, I want to repeat that feat and get the same feeling.
Q: You've also played a key role in PDRM FA's championship title in the Malaysian Premier League last season, scoring 17 goals in 20 matches. How much do you think that exposure has enriched you as a footballer?
AA: Well, the facilities and structure of clubs in Malaysia are a thousand times better than what they are in Maldives. So I think playing in Malaysia has taken my game to a new level.
Q: When you are away from football, what are the things that occupy your time?
AA: I'm mainly occupied with my family. I have three kids; two sons and a daughter.
Q: Do you want them to become footballers like you?
AA: I don't want to force football on them, but if they become footballers, I'll be fine with it.