U-18 quandary for clubs
The professional football league clubs are apparently not reaping the benefits of youth tournaments due to the absence of a specific calendar and constant changes of tournament rules by the game's governing body.
According to the AFC guideline, it is mandatory for all teams of professional football leagues to have a youth programme, which is considered the pipeline for the senior side. It is also mandatory for those sides to participate in competitive matches regularly. However, the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) has overlooked these criteria since the introduction of the professional football league in 2007. They were, at long last, able to introduce such youth tournaments involving U-16 squads of the league sides in the sixth edition of the Bangladesh Premier League last season, where each of the participating teams got enough time to prepare the sides. While last season the sides were given enough time to prepare, this season the game's governing body has decided to hold the tournament with Under-18 sides in the last week of this month, allowing next to no time for preparation.
Having talked to officials of some of the top clubs like Abahani, Mohammedan SC, Brothers Union, Sheikh Jamal DC, Muktijoddha Sangsad and Shiekh Russel KC, it has been learnt that none of them have any youth teams at the moment and are not ready to take part in the tournament.
Last time, most of the clubs had three to four months of preparation as they recruited players soon after the conclusion of the Pioneer Football League, but this time they are struggling to find players and will probably keep their hopes on the boys who played the U-16 tournament last time.
“We don't have any youth squad and it is not possible to run another football camp alongside the senior side's,” said Mohammedan director Sarwar Hossain, adding that the participation of holders Mohammedan would be a token one this time.
Holding two separate training camps at the same time will be a problem for all participating clubs already suffering from shortage of funds, accommodation as well as practice grounds. Most of the club officials blamed the BFF for its reluctance to reveal the schedule of the tournament at the start of the season.
“If they declared the schedule of the tournament earlier like the previous season, we could have scouted players and provided good preparation,” said Brothers manager Amer Khan, who believes that the BFF always puts clubs in trouble by changing the rules and scheduling of tournaments each season.
Actually we are not getting enough benefits from the youth tournaments; we can't recruit any players from the tournament for the senior side as it is being played in the middle of the season. If it started earlier in the season we could have done so,” said Muktijoddha Sangsad coach Shafiqul Islam Manik.
Despite all that, all the clubs are thinking of forming their U-18 squads within a short period of time just to meet the demand of the football federation by recalling those footballers, who played for their respective sides in last season's U-16 tournament.