Playing for one club for 18 years is without a doubt a sign of a player's great loyalty, which is repaid by the club year after year by offering contracts despite the kind of service they will get.
It may sound strange in the professional football era, but it has been happening at traditional giants Abahani, who have retained the services of 40-year-old midfielder Pranotosh Kumar Das, perhaps the last active player of his generation.
It is not just Das. The country's most successful club also have 36-year-old Wali Faisal, 35-year-old Nasiruddin Chowdhury, 34-year-old Mamun Mia, 32-year-old Mamunul Islam and 32-year-old Atiqur Rahman Meshu. One trophy has already slipped from their grasp after a loss to new force Bashundhara Kings in the semifinal of the Federation Cup on Thursday.
Since Bashundhara Kings' emergence, six-time professional league champions Abahani have failed to lift a trophy after winning the 2018 Federation Cup and are no doubt going to face big challenges in the league and Independence Cup this season.
In Thursday's semifinal, Abahani took the lead against the run of play but failed to keep the lead after Bashundara made two quality substitutions, who provided the final passes on two occasions. Meanwhile, Abahani had to bring on midfielder Mamunul Islam to replace injured center-back Masih Saighani. Mamunul was later replaced by winger Jewel Rana.
Retaining players does provide teams with an edge as they can benefit from better understanding and combination among the players, but Abahani have been doing it for years, refusing to bring any new players to the squad unless someone else departs.
Consequently, Abahani's bench is now a place full of unknown faces and little quality to actually replace players in the first team. It was evident on Thursday night that a strong bench had pushed Bashundhara Kings to the final while a weaker bench pushed Abahani to suffer a defeat.
Of their 26 local players, the Abahani management has astonishingly signed five goalkeepers and some others who allegedly do not have the quality to represent a club of their stature. It has also been learnt that at least three young players have been signed upon requests from two former footballers and a club official's son.
Having seen the poor present condition, two former Abahani footballers expressed their frustration. "If the threat of losing your place in the squad is there, then players try to give their best but I haven't seen that seriousness among the Abahani players although they played better against Kings compared to their previous match," said Firoz Mahmud Titu, who played as a defender for Abahani from 1999 to 2001.
"If you ask me about the standard of the local and foreign players as well as professional aspects, I would place Bashundhara ahead of Abahani," said former national captain Zahid Hasan Emily, who represented Abahani in the first two professional football leagues, adding that Abahani should sign at least 10 players to strengthen the bench next season.
Bashundhara have been in practice for three months with the participation of their foreign players while Abahani only had a seven-week preparation due to 'unfit foreign players' joining training after December 10, a month after training. There were whispers that the Abahani management did not want to bring the foreigners earlier in a bid to save on expenses, raising questions about whether Abahani, like traditional rivals Mohammedan SC, is walking toward its end?