Signs of overdue spark in Mohammedan’s recovery arc
Mohammedan Sporting Club, one of the oldest clubs in Bangladesh whose evolution since inception had been driven through sheer emotion from numerous passionate fans across the country, is more than a sporting outfit.
The Black and Whites had won the hearts of millions before and after the country's independence, courtesy of scintillating displays on the football pitch rather than the ones in cricket, hockey, chess and a few other indoor disciplines.
However, following continuous failures on the ground for over a decade, Mohammedan no longer occupy the same space in the hearts of its supporters. The crowd-pulling outfit continue to yearn for success in the most coveted football event in the domestic circuit since the introduction of the professional football league in 2007.
The administrative and organisational failures have been marked as one of the big reasons behind Mohammedan's setback in football. Although revival initiatives recently taken by the club since the casino scandal and ensuring the final berth of the ongoing Federation Cup certainly present a glimpse of hope, the road to re-establishing its position as one of the best top-flight football clubs in the country still remains arduous for Mohammedan.
Glorious past weighs heavy
During its early years, coinciding with the period before the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, Mohammedan emerged as a local powerhouse in football. The Black and Whites continued their dominance despite the emergence of Abahani and, thus, had the nation divided into two groups of football fans. A record 12 titles of top-flight football league in 29 editions, prior to the introduction of the professional football league in the form of Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) in 2007, has been the evidence of Mohammedan's dominance.
Moreover, the Motijheel-based outfit won several silverwares in DMFLC Cup, Federation Cup, Independence Cup, Super Cup, National Championship, but the only missing silverware from the club's rich trophy cabinet is the prestigious BPL. Except for the first three seasons, Mohammedan struggled in almost all BPL editions. They stooped to the lowest in the 2016-17 season by finishing 10th out of 12 clubs, demoralising millions of their fan-base.
Absence of scouting programme
During the national football league championship of the pre-BPL era, Mohammedan officials were known to have travelled all over the country to unearth raw talents. Resultantly, illustrious names like Badal Roy, Mosabber Hossain, Jasimuddin Josy were scouted from the district level.
There were instances of some Mohammedan officials who even ventured beyond the border to rope in foreign players. The recent past, however, witnessed the club opting for mediocre players instead, citing financial limitations, and straying from title aspirations as a consequence. Besides, there has been whispers that top footballers did not trust the club officials to make any deals in last season following several instances of irregular payments in the preceding seasons.
To take part in any Asian Football Confederation (AFC)-sanctioned professional tournaments, clubs must meet several licencing criteria set by the AFC. Although Mohammedan could tick some of the boxes within five different sections – on sporting, infrastructure, personnel and administrative, legal, and financial grounds -- they still lack modern training facilities, well-equipped gymnasium, permanent venue, and youth development setup, pinning the Black and Whites at the backseat of progress.
Having a youth development setup is mandatory for club-licencing but, like other clubs, Mohammedan have their youth squads only on paper. They train on a rented field and, to make matters worse, are often forced to conduct senior team's training in the small ground at the club premises. Thus, the coaches face huge challenge to brief tactical aspects ahead of matches.
Once there used to be some loyal footballers who played for Mohammedan year after year. They did not think much of payment back then but the scenario inverted in time as Mohammedan, having failed to live up to their financial commitments in previous seasons, can no longer take the signing of top local footballers for granted.
It was once unthinkable for Mohammedan to even consider dropping a point in a league match as their fans inevitably had the players confined at the stadium for hours before rushing to the club tent to protest the poor performances of their beloved team. Fearing backlash, the players and club officials did not even come out publicly. The visible pressure from fans has diminished and now expectations are limited to sporadic successes in cup competitions.
Mohammedan was once run by some dedicated and competent organisers like Moinul Islam, Abdul Monem, MA Malek, Monirul Haque Chowdhury, Sheikh Akmal Hossain, Sirajul Haque Chowdhury, Anwarul Haque Helal up until the early 1990s. A dearth of quality organisers, however, triggered a decline in performance and posed a myriad of challenges in subsequent years.
Internal conflicts, financial instability, and lack of adequate infrastructure further hampered the club's progress. These issues resulted in a sustained period of underachievement, with the club failing to clinch major titles and struggling to maintain consistency on the field.
However, the casino scandal became a turning point for the Motijheel-based outfit with the emergence of a set of new board of directors in early 2021. They are now trying to solve financial issues and form comparatively better squads in football and cricket, while having inserted dedicated former players in different sub-committees.
Till the late 1980s, the management ran the club smoothly, a period where success rate was higher than the subsequent decades. Financial constraints played a major part in Mohammedan becoming underachievers in football and cricket. Under the leadership of long-serving Lokman Hossain Bhuiyan, who later was allegedly involved with the casino scandal, the club turned into a limited company in 2011, with an aim to bringing some financial solvency but the scenario did not improve. Instead, the club had hit its all-time low in terms of performance on the ground.
A Mohammedan official, seeking anonymity, said the club needs Tk 20 lakh per month to maintain daily operations but they have a permanent income of Tk 45 thousand per month, generated from two shops at the club tent.
Although the new board of directors headed by former Army Chief General Md Abdul Mubeen has not brought the desired financial stability yet, the club has not faced any financial crisis when it came to forming squads in football and cricket and running the club in general.
It was also learned that president Mubeen and football committee chairman and director Ghulam Mohammad Alomgir bear majority of the expenditure. Meanwhile, Max Group is sponsoring the football team and in cricket, United Group and Pran Group were involved with the Mohammedan cricket team in the just-concluded Dhaka Premier League. However, it is worth mentioning that Alomgir and Mubeen are affiliated with Max and United Group, respectively.
Prospect of revival
Mohammedan's journey has been marked by highs and lows, exemplifying the challenges faced by many sports organisations. However, the club's recent initiatives to revive its glory reflect a renewed determination and commitment to reclaiming its former stature. The club management now badly needs to find out strategic partners and sponsors for the long-term plans that will ensure less friction in the coming days.
It remains to be seen whether the Black and Whites will be a beacon of inspiration for aspiring footballers and a symbol of success in Bangladeshi football once again.