Smalley’s extension raises eyebrows | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 05, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:41 AM, July 05, 2020

Smalley’s extension raises eyebrows

Most of the Bangladesh Football Federation's (BFF's) activities, apart from some official work, have remained halted since the government directed all national sports federations, associations and concerned authorities to suspend all events in light of the Covid-19 pandemic in mid-March. During this pandemic, the only excitement came along with allegations that the BFF secretariat was trying to buy delegates for its upcoming elections.

Recently, another issue has emerged and has raised questions over the reappointment of 53-year-old Paul Smalley as the BFF technical director on a two-year term.

BFF president Kazi Salahuddin heaped praise on Smalley, adding: "Paul is an experienced and modern technical director and enjoyed a successful time previously with us. Paul will again support Jamie Day with the senior national team."

But the question is: Was Smalley's first tenure a success? Did the Englishman have any impact on the national team?

We can re-examine what Smalley ]did during his first tenure from 2016 to 2019 and then we can compare his work with that done by the All Indian Football Federation's (AIFF) former technical director Robert Baan.

Smalley had prepared a four-year plan for the BFF within three months of his joining, which has proven to be an unrealistic mission and vision.

FIFA senior development manager Mike Pfister, at a press conference on November 3, 2016, termed Smalley's draft plans under the new FIFA Forward programme an ambitious one.

"Our advice is to be realistic and concrete. Our plan is not for four years, it is for two years. We will see the first two years and, based on the success of these projects, we will start afresh for the next two years pending approval," he said.

There was logic behind Pfister's opinion. Smalley prepared the plan without consulting with stakeholders or gaining any practical knowledge of the grassroots situation. But the BFF stuck to the plan and revealed it on December 10, 2016, with each year featuring more than two dozen competitions and programmes.

In the first year, the BFF could implement only 50 to 60 per cent of the yearly calendar and in the following years, the BFF did not follow that four-year plan at all, with Paul Smalley spending more time with the women's age-group teams and later in coaching courses.

Nevertheless, the women's age-group teams scaled new heights in term of stamina under Smalley's guidance and the number of educated coaches [AFC A, B, C] rose from 126 to 400.

But he could not make the BFF understand that it was necessary to keep all the lower-division leagues and district football leagues rolling to give those educated coaches room to practically apply their knowledge.

There may have been some strong arguments from the BFF members over the justification to reappoint Smalley, but the argument is how wise it was to ensure a service from someone who received more than Tk 4 crore in salary in three years for simply guiding the women's football teams and conducting coaching courses.

If we look into what happened at the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF)' in this regards we will get a different picture. Dutchman Baan presented India with a 127-page masterplan titled "Lakshya: One Vision. One Goal," in August 2012, one year after his appointment.

The masterplan featured 10 chapters with elaborate explanations of the things India needed to increase their footballing standards. Although India has been unable to implement all of his suggestions, they have already reaped the rewards by building the National Centre of Excellence as well as regional football academies.

The Indian Super League was also believed to be Baan's brainchild. He emphasised on the need to restructure domestic competition by providing the concept for the Super I-League. He also planned to develop national clubs and introduce elite domestic competitions to increase standards.

India is still not progressing fast with that masterplan, but their FIFA ranking -- always hovering around 100th -- shows they are on the right path.  They were 168th when Baan had placed his plan.

Some decision-makers in the BFF opine that it was an obligation to FIFA/AFC to have a technical director at the helm, but some BFF members were unclear about why the higher-ups hurried to reappoint Smalley without taking the time to analyse other candidates.

"It's a very difficult time now. Look at Bangladesh's performance on the international scene. Of course, performances at the international level are a reflection of what is done here. That is an alarming wake-up call. We believe that Bangladesh needs a turning point. It's always time to close a chapter and begin a new one," FIFA senior development manager Make Pfister thusly evaluated the BFF's activities.

Bangladesh football is now sorely seeing its worst days and only wise decisions from higher-ups can turn the tide, but was the BFF wise enough and did they evaluate everything thoroughly before picking the person for such an important position?

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