The Bashundhara’s Newest Pride || Know Your Opponent ft. Bashundhara Kings

The Bashundhara’s Newest Pride

When Shailen Manna and Chuni Goswami’s Mohun Bagan landed at Tejgaon airport back in 1972, Bangladesh was not even 1 year old, and the purpose of that visit was the first ever football matches being played in Bangladesh by a team from another country. Although first the match against Dhaka Mohammedan ended 1-0 in favour of the Mariners, two days later, the Dhaka XI did not disappoint their liberator and then Prime Minister Shiekh Mujibur Rahaman who was present among the 35000 spectators at the Dhaka stadium as Bangladesh got to witness their first ever footballing win in their now independent motherland (or Bashundhara in Bengali). 

Mohun Bagan players getting welcomed by Bangladeshi officials at Tejgaon Airport, May 10, 1972.

Football in the region of modern Bangladesh dates way back to 1898 when the Dhaka’s first club Wari was established, which has managed to survive 125 years and currently play in the second division. Much like the development of the country itself, the progress of the football team was marred with a plethora of difficulties. Even with lack of infrastructure, professionalism and corruption, the Bengalis knew how to persevere, progress and remain optimistic. Their traditional big three, Mohammedan, Abahani Dhaka and Brothers Union produced some scintillating football in the golden period of 80s and 90s, the most significant highlight from that era being Mohammedan reaching the Asian Club Championship (now ACL) semifinals in 1988. 

The turn of the century didn’t prove anything positive as a general lack of intent and structure brought down the quality of the Dhaka league and the national team dwindled down to an all time low FIFA ranking. The second tier, mostly comprising amateurs, was introduced as late as 2012, only 5 years after the first national level professional league. Interest in the game by the locals had vanished, the stands remained empty, and the eardrum piercing chants were long lost. As Bangladeshi football enthusiasts were losing hope for any development, a big name entered the scene.

I. Something Special

Bashundhara Kings celebrate promotion (Courtesy: Collected by the Daily Star)

As Bashundhara Group, Bangladesh’s largest conglomerate with a dominating foothold in almost every major industry, showed their interest to rejuvenate the fading footballing scene in the country, it was arguably the first time in Bangladeshi footballing history that an honest ambition met the financial backing as the aptly named Bashundhara Kings comfortably won the second division 2017-18 Championship garnering 1.94 points per match. In the match which ensured their promotion, their own President Imrul Hasan, who was also registered as a player, was brought in the last few minutes to join the on field celebrations. Investments continued to pour in from the board as the new Premier League entrants formed one of the best teams in the first division by roping in top players from country and abroad, their most popular signing being of Colindres, who was part of the Costan Rican 2018 World Cup squad. Guided by experienced tactician Oscar Bruzon, who even had managerial stints in India with SC Goa, Mumbai City FC (assistant) and Mumbai FC, the Kings ensured a comfortable victory to the top of the league.

Now conquering the other established big clubs plagued with uninterested officials was the easier part of the job, as Bashundhara were not going to be just another big money club who would continue to dominate the local league, they had greater ambitions. “We want to make a mark in Asian club football as well. We dream big! Inshallah, one day the dreams will come true.”, said President Imrul Hasan in an interview to the Dhaka Tribune even before the commencement of the 18/19 season. Their first entry into the group stages of the AFC Cup was in 2020, when they began their group in style defeating Maldivian club TC Sports 5-1, but the Cup eventually had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

David Williams celebrates after levelling the scoreline in Bagan’s encounter with the Kings in AFC Cup 2020 (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Their hope of making it past the group stage rose again in the next edition as they held Bengaluru FC to a 0-0 draw after a 2-0 victory over Maldivian club Maziya as they faced the mighty Mohun Bagan for the first time in their existence. Bashundhara dominated throughout the first half which led them to even taking the lead in the 28th minute through Jonathan Fernandes. If they could latch on to this lead, they would have topped the group and caused a major embarrassment for not one but two Indian top tier clubs, but a 62nd minute David Williams goal crumbled their first ever Asian dream. They came painfully close to the inter zonal semi finals yet again next season as they finished 2nd to Mohun Bagan even with the same points since they had lost their game to the Mariners. Ironically, Bashundhara’s win against Gokulam gave their rivals from Kolkata a ticket to the semifinals as the alternate scenario would have ensured the Malabarians finishing top of the group.

II. The Greater Good

“As I said, the initial plan was to involve the youth with the sport. We want to spread out the spirit and excitement of football to all. Our goal is to bring back the glory days of our football. Bashundhara want the galleries to be jam-packed with the spectators watching football as it was in the 80s or 90s. But this is not going to happen overnight. (Club President Imrul Hasan, Dhaka Tribune, 2019)


Bashundhara Sports Complex Planning (Courtesy: Volumezero Ltd.)

Soon after tasting some initial on field success, Bashundhara Group initiated one of the largest sports infrastructural exercises South Asia has ever seen. A football specific stadium with a world class hybrid GrassMaster pitch, a separate cricket pitch, along with facilities for any sport which comes to mind, be it hockey, squash, swimming, tennis, badminton, basketball, volleyball and even futsal! Along with that, a report from July 23 on Bangladesh Pratidin explains that a residential academy is also being built along with all age based teams which would have foreign coaches. This brings the potential for better trained youth who would eventually enhance the quality in the national team, which has already has been coached by Oscar Bruzon for a bit as an interim. 

When the quality of football increases, the topmost generational talents born in the country as well as abroad to countrymen would also not shy away from considering to represent the national team. Even it forces the opponents, especially the traditional giants who have been embarrassed multiple times in their encounters against this new guy in town, to invest more into their own squads, and the data shows for it. Considering all first division clubs except Bashundhara, the average total squad value of the Premier division increased from a mere 300 thousand euros in the 18/19 season to 1.8 million euros in 20/21, and now at 1.94 million in the 22/23 season. Such developments are starting to put restore Bangladesh’s prestige back into the Asian football scene, as Bashundhara have proven their on and off field capabilities and presented a model for other sports investors on how to create a healthy competitive professional and sustainable environment for everyone involved. 

III. The Asian Oscar?

“In our team, we are 11 attackers and 11 defenders. I need a defender who can also attack very well and our striker needs to defend very well. We don’t think about positions, because everybody attacks and everybody defends. It is very rich for one player when they are ready to play in different positions as he becomes more versatile and there are more chances for him to play in the XI. So, changing position is nothing but only dynamic football.” (Oscar Bruzon, Dhaka Tribune, 2021)


Oscar Bruzon (R) with Robinho in a presser ahead of the Kings’ clash against Maziya in AFC Cup 2023 (Courtesy: @obruzon on X)

Whenever watching this team, it is an undeniable observation that no player in Oscar’s 11 consider themselves to be superior to the rest. Every player has incredible work ethic as they use every last bit of their stamina to make their presence felt in regions far beyond their positions traditionally expect them to be in. In the era of so called modern football which has made the roles of the defender much more demanding that it used to, its refreshing to see that Bruzon also instructs his forwards, attacking mids and wingers to drop down and defend when necessary, to chase the opposition wingers and make tactical fouls when a potentially dangerous situation is created.

It is this mentality of considering every player equal and sharing the attacking and defensive responsibility which has made a team fierce contenders in the South Asian footballing scene, their most incredible underdog win coming quite recently as they embarrassed Sergio Lobera’s Odisha FC 3-2 at Dhaka. Bruzon arranged his 11 in his typical 4-2-3-1 with Saad-Yuldashev-Kazi-Ghosh at back, Brossou as a fixed pivot, pairing with Gafurov whose given bit more freedom, Figueira at CAM, Robinho and Hossain at wings with Dori up top.

Inverted full backs in action (Unmodified image courtesy: AFC Hub YouTube)

Throughout the game, Odisha struggled with creativity, their primary source being Ahmed Jahouh, and the to counter his creative threat, the Kings instead of pressurising Jahouh himself, marked every Odisha attacker closely from behind, and whenever Jahouh tried to make a progressive pass, the pass got intercepted most of the time. The presence of a double pivot always proves difficult for central progression as Princeton Rebello who started at attacking mid was not given a single iota of space, and could only register only 25 touches and was subbed out at half time for Roy Krishna.

Odisha were lot more impressive in the second half as Roy Krishna’s unpredictable movements primarily targeted the right half of Kings’ defense where Ghosh and Kazi did leave a lot of space between them occasionally. Throughout the match Odisha didn’t do anything necessarily wrong but their lack of creative talents and predictability cost them from gaining control. Two of the Bashundhara goals came from headers while the third came from Delgado leaving acres of space which was exploited by Dori to slide the ball through Amrinder’s legs, while the Juggernauts scored through a perfectly placed through by an overlapping Renthlei towards Mauricio and then through Jerry Lalrinzuala after a poor clearance by goalkeeper Mehedi Hasan.

Bashundhara Kings defending wing play (Unmodified picture courtesy: AFC Hub YouTube)

Stauch believers of build up play, Brossou generally dropped down to receive the ball when Mauricio pressed else a very ball confident deft passer Yuldashev was given the responsibility to take the ball forward towards Gafurov, Robinho or Figueira. Other variations involved providing the ball to the inverted full backs who would use their pace to make forward runs into the half spaces while the wingers stayed behind to catch the ball if the full backs got dispossessed so that the attack could be continued. 

What exposed the frailties of this Bashundhara team was their first group stage match of this Asian campaign, away against Maldivian club Maziya. Bashundhara had gone to Odisha as an underdog, with a thirst to prove their prowess in front of an Indian club, there was this mental element where the players gave their anything and everything to grind out the victory against a system which was very similar to the one they were using. In the match against Maziya, the scenario was different. They had already defeated them twice in 2021 and 2022 so they fielded lesser foreign players which hit their creativity. Maziya initiated a deep low block, created overloads, defended with even a seven man back line sometimes and frustrated the Bashundhara players who would start attacking with six to seven players, thus leaving a lot of space at the back. 

Sofascore Average formations: Maziya (L), Bashundhara Kings (R)

Whenever the Maldivians got back the ball (24% ball possession), they would launch the ball forward and their blistering attackers would ensure to a 3-1 victory in favour of the home team. Even with the limited time they got, they didn’t have any particular shape as the primary intention was to run back and forth throughout the length of the pitch and counter the attackers one situation at a time. Bashundhara also missed out a lot of big chances, 3 to be exact as 14 shots from inside the box were either placed off target, blocked or exceptionally saved by the Maziya goalie. Thus, it can be inferred that Bashundhara are great at opposing a structured attack, which was also seen in their previous encounter with Mohun Bagan when the Juan also implemented a 4-2-3-1, but when faced with unpredictability, they seem to be caught giving out a lot of space, and Mohun Bagan this season seem to have found a balance between these two.

. . .

With a new attacking duo of Samad and Boumous with Thapa lying deeper, it would be feasible for Mohun Bagan to establish a formational 3 vs 3 in the midfield and the combinations with Liston and Ashish Rai would be key in establishing dominance in the central regions. With Manvir Singh unlikely to start due to minor injury and Liston Colaco being more prone to cutting inward than going wide, the attack will be based mostly through the central and half spaces. In the latest training session, even Subhashish Bose was unable to participate due to a minor niggle, which can imply a similar defensive lineup as seen in the clash against Maziya which involved Ashish, Anwar, Yuste and Hamill. Bashundhara will definitely go all guns blazing as they have come close to qualification for a while now and are desperate to finally make it through. Mohun Bagan will have to win the mental game, never shy away from doing just a bit more and ensure that their Asian aspirations don’t suffer any dents.

Possible lineups: Mohun Bagan (L), Bashundhara Kings (R)

When Mohun Bagan coach Karuna Bhattacharjee landed at Tejgaon in 1972, he commented: “We have brought friendship, goodwill and love for the seven crore people of Bangladesh.”  Over half a century, those seven crore have now bloomed to become seven-teen, as this football fanatic region of the world which has witnessed thousands of stories of success and failure, of joy and sorrow, of colonialism and liberation, shall enjoy yet another international encounter, as the new Kings of Eastern Bengal who are a remarkable testament to the power of vision and investment, would leave no stone unturned in their clash against the Giants of the Western half, who too are going all out in their pursuit of continental silverware.

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