When you think of sport in Bangladesh, you immediately think of cricket. However, football is on the rise, and Englishman Jamie Day is in charge of the national team as they seek qualification to a major tournament.
From an early stage in his career, Day held ambitions to get into coaching.
“When I was playing, I always liked the coaching side of it, the sessions which the coaches I was playing for did, and I was always interested in doing that once I finished.
“I went into part-time football around 25 or 26, and then it was a time for me to get my coaching badges. I started working in the community scheme at Charlton and then progressed into management and where I am now.”
At the age of just 30, Day became player-manager of Welling United, a challenge he says he really enjoyed.
“It was something I wanted to do and it was an opportunity, obviously I’d played for Welling before, it’s a really good club and it’s local, a club that I was used to and I got on really well with the owners which made it easier for me.
“I think in non-league you can get away with being a player-manager if you have good staff around you and I had really good staff at that time who took care of stuff when I was playing and I trusted their judgement.
“For me it was a really good five years, I had fantastic times there. Probably the best I’ve had as a manager in terms of success.”
Day, a former Arsenal trainee, enjoyed several more spells as a manager in non-league football, before the opportunity of international management arose.
“I had an agent in Australia who knew a company which wanted a Bangladesh coach. So, he got in contact and asked if it would be something which I would be interested in and I said yes.
“Obviously, it’s an international job and I’ve always wanted to work abroad. After a few weeks I met the vice president of the Bangladesh FA in London, we had a good chat and spoke about how we wanted to try and take Bangladesh football forward and what was needed. I felt it was a good opportunity and wanted to take the challenge up.”
Whilst cricket dominates in Bangladesh, football is certainly gaining popularity. Whilst it is unlikely to rival cricket anytime soon, Day sees an opportunity for the sport to become bigger.
“It is a popular sport. Bangladesh is associated with cricket more than football, but I think that a lot of people do like football at the minute.
“There’s more money, sponsorship and commercial aspects in cricket than football so that gets a lot more exposure. But if Bangladesh was to have some success, which will take time, football has potential to grow.”
Currently ranked 187th in the Fifa World Rankings, Bangladesh have a limited record of success, qualifying just once for the AFC Asian Cup, way back in 1980.
“The league is probably lower league in England, Conference South level,” Day explained.
“A few of our players could probably play Conference, they might struggle with the physical side of it but technically they could play at that level.”
Looking to the future
For Bangladesh to qualify for tournaments, Day believes better structure is needed within the game at club level, with academy sides not existing in the country.
“There are professional clubs but there is a lack of structure. There aren’t any academy systems at the moment, they basically all just have one men’s first team.
“It is slowly getting better, but we need to filter that down to a younger age so they’re playing football from 5, 6, 7 all the way up. At the moment the structure isn’t there to do that.”
One possible route Bangladesh could go is selecting players of Bangladeshi origin who currently play abroad. Day explains that is an option they have considered.
“We’ve had a look at that, obviously our captain Jamal Bhuyan was born in Denmark but now lives in Bangladesh. There’s a few Bangladeshis in Canada and a couple in Sweden, but the one’s we have spoken to would like the opportunity to play for the country they’re currently in, which we understand.
“If further down the line they become available then we would look into it. We want to give the home-grown players the first option. But if we want to progress, we need to look further afield and if those players have a change of heart we’ll look into it.”
“We want to try and qualify for the Asian Games if possible, that’s the target. We knew we weren’t going to qualify from the group we were in, but it’s been a good experience for the younger players.”
Day spends a lot of time away from his family, something he has previously struggled with but is now getting used to.
“It’s tough. I do four to five weeks at a time, then come back home for ten to 14 days. It depends if there are competitions, obviously if there was a World Cup game then we’d have a camp lasting three or four weeks, possibly longer.
“It is tough for the family but they’ve been fantastic, very supportive and I appreciate them letting me do this job.”
The future for Bangladesh football seems bright with Day at the helm, and the Londoner is looking to extend his stay with his current contract due to run out in May.
“We’ve had some discussions already, which were very positive. I think there’s still some good work to be done in Bangladesh,” he explained.
“I enjoy working with the players in international football. We’re close to getting a new contract done, it just might take a little bit longer than we first thought.”