The Daily Star (TDS): How did you transform yourself within a year, becoming the top-scorer in the league among local players?
Nabib Newaj Jibon (NNJ): I always had faith in my own quality, but I didn’t get much match-time to prove myself in previous seasons. This time, Abahani coach Mario Lemos, who knows me since the time he worked with the national team, put faith in me. He gave me chances against Bashundhara Kings in the Independence Cup semifinal and against NoFeL SC in the opening match of the Bangladesh Premier League but I performed poorly in both matches. I was sidelined for the next two matches before getting another chance in league’s fourth match against Rahmatganj MFS where I finally proved myself by scoring a hattrick. I want to thank Lemos for showing faith in me and backing me during practice sessions.
TDS: Was the performance against Rahmatganj MFS a turning point for you?
NNJ: Yes, I never looked back after that hattrick. I got more confident and started believing I could score in every match. I played the remaining 20 league matches as well as all six group-stage matches of the AFC Cup. The coach gave me a target of scoring 14 goals, but I exceeded that and even exceeded my own target of 15 goals.
TDS: How do you evaluate your own performance in the just-concluded league?
NNJ: It is the best-ever performance of my football career because I was drafted in starting eleven in approximately 22 league matches, which is rare compared to the two previous seasons. I’m really happy with my performance, but the only regret is not being able make Abahani champions.
TDS: Before your debut in Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) for Team BJMC in 2012-13 season, you came into discussion following your 13-goal tally in the Bangladesh Championship League (BCL), but you could not justify yourself in the next four seasons. What were reasons behind the poor form?
NNJ: I wasn’t allowed to play for Team BJMC in my debut season in 2012-13 due to binding rules. I scored eight goals in 2013-14 season before joining Abahani in 2014-15 season. I scored five goals that season and scored eight last season. Actually, I was mostly used as a substitute in those seasons even though I had confidence of playing full-time. So, I gradually became weaker mentally and could not perform well.
TDS: As a striker, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Jibon?
NNJ: I am good at dribbling and controlling the ball. I can also take shots from distance, but I’m not that good in the air. And I am physically not that strong. As per my height, my weight should be 72kgs, but I am only 67 or 68kgs. I wish I could run like my teammate Jewel Rana.
TDS: How did you start playing football and become a striker?
NNJ: I started playing football in my childhood with my seniors in Shibganj in Bogura against the will of my parents. My physical trainer Nan Sarker taught me speed and skill. I wasn’t given a chance in Bogura district team for the JFA Cup U-16 tournament in 2006 and I played for Gaibandha district. Then I was picked for the three-month preliminary camp for the national U-17 side at BKSP the same year, but I could not make it to the final squad. Afterwards I played in the Dhaka Pioneer League in 2007, Second Division in 2008, First Division in 2009 and different district leagues. I think I turned myself into a footballer. I was really obsessed with scoring goals as people appreciated much after my goals.
TDS: It is often said that foreign strikers are cleverer than local ones. Do you agree?
NNJ: No, I think the foreigners are ahead of us in strength, but they are not extraordinary players. I think Sunday Chizoba is not better than me, he is ahead of me just because of his strength.
TDS: Abahani are now preparing for AFC Cup’s inter-zone semifinal playoffs against a North Korean club. What can the Abahani fans expect from you in these matches?
NNJ: I believe we can win the home match if we give our best. Even though the North Korean side is pretty good, it won’t be easy for them to come here and win. As I got goals regularly in the league, I will try to continue my good form in both legs.
TDS: Scoring goals for the national team has always been a concern. Can the Bangladeshi fans expect an end to that from you in the Joint Qualifiers for Qatar World Cup and China Asian Cup?
NNJ: I want to transform my domestic performance into international matches. I want to perform for the national team, for whom I have scored only two goals. To be honest, I feel a bit of pressure wearing the national team jersey, but this time I want to play without pressure. If you saw I squandered an easy opportunity against Laos in World Cup pre-qualifier but then I scored much brilliant goal against Minerva Punjab in AFC Cup. I believe we can do well against familiar opponents India and Afghanistan, who are not much ahead of us.