'Zahid needs guidance'
As Lodewijk de Kruif leaves for Netherlands today, The Daily Star's Atique Anam and Anisur Rahman caught up with him yesterday at the Pan Pacific Sonargoan hotel to speak elaborately about his football philosophy and the state of Bangladesh football. In Part-I, the coach analyses his players' performances and his own tactical choices in the just-concluded Bangabandhu Gold Cup.
DS: Since the Bangabandhu Gold tournament is over, I hope you will be more at ease answering queries about the team's performance.
LDK: To be honest, I was not happy with certain areas. I was not happy with lack of concentration at the last moment. I hoped that I banned that aspect from the team, but it came back. The small moments create the thin line between winning and losing and that is why experience of match-play is so important. We also have problems in the goal. That's why we are looking for a foreign goalkeeper coach and that is also the wish of Mr. (Kazi) Salahuddin.
DS: How do you defend your decision to keep (Rasel Mahmud) Liton on the pitch in the second half of the first match against Malaysia even after watching him being beaten three times?
LDK: My plan was to keep Liton for all the matches. My plan was to replace him with (Shahidul Alam) Sohel only when there was a penalty-kick situation because of Sohel's height and reach. Maybe, I'll have to think about that one again.
DS: There is a criticism that some of the players don't actually understand the tactical things very well, like positioning, and that they can't adapt to the modern system.
LDK: The ones we have in the national team now don't have those issues. There were a few older players who could not adapt. But then again, it's not about age only; it's also about the willingness to adapt. For example, old Nasir (Chowdhury) was quick to adapt and he is a very important player for the team, not only on the pitch, but also outside the pitch. He is like a guardian for young players. And his military background helps with his discipline.
DS: What about (Zahid Hasan) Emily? He played better with every match but never looked very threatening, did he?
LDK: Emily is a clever player. He is a slow starter but he waits for his moments. If you look at what we have at number nine position, you see only Emily and Rony. We have a few others, but they are much younger. There is also a problem in wings. You have Zahid (Hossain), and you don't have anyone else of that quality in that position. Sohel (Rana) is also one who is more of an attacking midfield player than winger.
DS: Exactly. Then why did you prefer to play Sohel in winger's role? Was it due to a lack of options?
LDK: It's because my midfield was full with three tremendous players – Hemanta (Vincent Biswas), Mamunul (Islam) and Jamal (Bhuiyan). So there was no space for Sohel but I wanted to play him because he is a very good player and he is fast and has a good cross. I played 4-3-3; but what we always do especially when the opposition is strong, I ask Sohel and Zahid to come on to the midfield too so that when opposition have the ball, it's 4-5-1 and there is little space allowed for the opposition.
DS: Tell us a bit about how you unearthed Hemanta?
LDK: I saw him in a talent hunt at the BNS (in 2013). There was an XI v XI match and I was just watching the match when I saw a very strong guy, who played defensive midfield position and scored a brilliant 30-yard free-kick. Hemanta was much stronger than the rest of his age-group boys. We (de Kruif and Rene Koster) picked him from there and when we took him to FC Twente for the trial, they told me he was an 'unpolished diamond'. But Hemanta's problem is, when he is running with the ball, he is always looking down and doesn't look where he is and where the opposition players are.
DS: People think Sohel wastes too much time on the ball. How are you trying to rectify that aspect?
LDK: I tried to get it out (of his system). He is running with the ball, and then turns, looks behind his back again and again and the chance is gone. He must dribble, look up and whoever comes into the box, and deliver the cross and get back to his position. But he is too much of a kid, both in body and mind. I think he loves the ball too much and sleeps with it too.
DS: Let's get back to Zahid. How do you manage such a moody player like Zahid who blows hot and cold and reacts whenever he is substituted?
LDK: I think I have a good understanding with Zahid at the moment. From things that I hear from people though, is that he needs guidance. He is simple in mind and people around him are not guiding him. I have to admit that sometimes even I have to do it like this (puts a hand over his eyes). But on top of all, he is an extraordinary player, who gives only 60 per cent of what he can for the team. He never played to his 100 per cent ability in his life.
(The interview concludes tomorrow when de Kruif shares his future plans with the national team and his suggestions for development of the game)