Irfan Aziz uncovers the fascinating journey of the captain of the Bangladesh National Football team, Jamal Bhuyan.
Concept by Tawhidur Rashid
Styling by Goutom Saha
Photography by Rony Rezaul
Makeup and hair by AURA Beauty Lounge
Location at Le Méridien Dhaka
Even if you don’t follow sports regularly, chances are that you are familiar with Jamal Bhuyan and the buzz he has been creating lately. The captain of our national football team has been tasked with restoring our glory days and so far he has taken to his responsibilities like a duck to water. Energetic, relentless and combative, Jamal is the bedrock in which the latest and in many ways the most promising team in decades has been built on. The first thing you’ll notice about Jamal is the stark contrast between his off-pitch and on-pitch personalities. While on the pitch he is a scary, intimidating presence, off the pitch he is a charming and fun personality to be around. Make no mistake though, this guy is an absolute baller and to be able to meet him and discuss the beautiful game with him was an absolute privilege.
A career of fine margins
Jamal was born and raised in Denmark and like most professional footballers, he was drawn to football at the tender age of 4 idolizing the likes of Zidane and Ronaldo Nazario. He was introduced to the playing side of it by Valencia midfielder Daniel Wass. The pair grew up together in the same neighborhood attending the same school and later going to college together. He began his playing career at Brondby IF’s fifth team but he drastically moved up the ranks all the way to the first team. He started out as a winger but due to the aggressive nature of his game transitioned into defensive midfield. A string of solid performances for Brondby’s first team earned Jamal his first big move to FC Copenhagen, the best team in Denmark. Things were looking promising for the midfielder before they took an unexpected turn. At the age of 17, Jamal was shot four times. “I grew up in a very rough neighborhood. The people I attended classes with were the same people who were dealing drugs after school. It was that easily accessible. It wasn’t exactly the safest place on earth and these incidents were very common there”, Jamal recalls. Football was his escape from darkness, it was his way of staying out of trouble, a ticket to a better future but unfortunately, life is not all rainbows and sunshine. However, being the warrior that he is, Jamal was only set back a couple of months from what could have easily been -an incident that ended his career or even his life. He laced up his boots once again and found his rhythm back soon enough. He attracted the interest of the Bangladesh National Team who invited him out to Bangladesh to play. “I was really excited for the new challenge but when I got here, I was struggling to adjust”, explained Jamal. He struggled to adapt to Bangladesh’s weather and the food and slowly became homesick. “I had to return to Denmark to freshen up my mind”, he explained. But Bangladesh was adamant to let their prodigal son slip away so after Jamal received a sufficient break, they called him back for another trial. Things were different the second time as Jamal found it much easier to adapt and displayed a man of the match performance in a match in Rajshahi. “One thing leads to another and pretty soon I was representing Bangladesh on an international level. That too as their captain”, he stated. Everything fell into places for Jamal but things could have so easily gone the other way.
Warrior through and through
Dutch coach Lodewijk de Kruif described Jamal Bhuyan as the best defensive midfielder in South Asia. He is an absolute engine in the heart of the pitch with the ability to step up his speed during transition plays to devastating effects. Although defensive mid is far from the most glamorous position in football, Jamal has shown time and time again that his role is equally important as a forward. To stay at the top of his game, Jamal needs to maintain peak physical and mental fitness. “I have to eat right at all times and make sure that I go to the gym consistently so that I can stay active. I also ensure that I never stay up too late and most importantly, do my stretches before going to bed. The key to success is ensuring that your mind and body are in sync. Sometimes the mind demands things that the body cannot deliver and that’s why taking care of it so it can keep up is absolutely essential,” Jamal explained. He also explained how the mental side of the game is more excruciating than the physical side. “In order to survive in the top level, you need to be extremely strong mentally. Football can be very mentally demanding. You can be at the top of your game in one match and go to bed thinking you are the best player in the world only to perform horribly in the next match,” he elaborated. This is what separates the professionals from everyone else, their ability to absorb the mental pressure.
One match at a time
Under Jamal’s leadership, Bangladesh picked up a crucial away win against Laos which means a goalless draw was enough for them to proceed to the next round of the Fifa World Cup 2022 qualifiers. Not only that, but their victory also helped them climb up five ranks to 183rd. “Our objective right now is to take on one match at a time and see how far we can go. Every opponent we face will require a different method of preparation but we will need to ensure that we keep our spirits up, maintain our fitness and eventually develop that winning mentality. Obviously, the World Cup is the dream but right now I want to focus on climbing up the world ranking as much as possible,” he elaborated. “If we keep on achieving good results, more fans will be drawn towards football and this will also encourage more investments,” he said. Our dreams may be far away at the moment but we are on the right track.
However, Jamal urged the nurturing of local talents if we want to keep moving in the right direction. “We need more academies, training facilities, and foreign coaches which will require a lot of funding. We have a lot of untapped raw talent and if they are provided with the correct opportunities, I believe we can truly shine in the international stage,” Jamal added. As for his personal progress, Jamal believes that he is yet to reach the peak of his abilities. “This is one thing that I’ll never be able to answer properly. My answer would have been the same even if you had asked me this five years back and will probably be the same if you ask me this in the future. I believe I still have a lot to learn and a lot to offer so you can say that I am yet to reach my prime,” he added. One thing is for certain though, in Jamal, Bangladesh has found a much needed natural leader who will help rejuvenate the nation’s love for football.