As Lionel Messi and his Argentina team amble back into the daily drudgery of club football they leave behind in their wake an adoring crowd of Bangladeshi supporters hopeful for another visit of football’s most famous star. If Messi had even had half an ear open during most of the game on Tuesday, he would definitely have been rewarded with screams of endearment that greeted his every touch. The Argentine’s popularity is so at its peak here that it overwhelms the support for other superstars such as Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria.
As such, Bangladesh can prove a comfortable destination for many such future internationals of Argentina; in truth the supporter base here is as strong as it is anywhere else in the world.
But the real question which arises with Messi’s departure is this; do games of this magnitude have any real impact or value for football in Bangladesh?
When the game was initially announced this question was repeatedly raised to the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF), because in reality, looking only at face value, there really is very little tangible impact for Bangladesh football per se from a game of this magnitude.
BFF president Kazi Salahuddin’s response in those circumstances was quite admirable. He felt, and rightly so, that organizing games of such calibre could only serve to increase the visibility of Bangladeshi football to youths playing the game here, while at the same time establish Bangladesh as a popular and able destination for friendly internationals of this magnitude.
But with the departure of the Argentines the feeling is that while the first output might have been achieved, the second was one that the BFF and its partner Beximco completely missed the boat in.
But first the positives.
The interest generated from this game was massive, even if the hype was not properly channelled by the BFF. There is no doubt that seeing the kind of superstars that you do line-up on TV every week, playing infront of you, will get at least a few youngsters to take up football as their primary sport.
Also, people will be talking about this Messi game for a long time and through this football finally garnered the much sought after front page coverage. However, the fear is that once Messi has left things will go back to their usual state, i.e, little or no coverage of Bangladesh football or the Bangladesh League.
And it is easy to see why. Over the years it has been tough to attract the audience for football in Bangladesh, as had been almost the wont in the 1980s. Young kids can recite the names of entire squads of their European club of choice but ask them to name the teams that participate in the Bangladesh League and they will be stumped. Much has been made of poor marketing and infrastructure but ultimately there is a distinct lack of quality that is the one thing that generally attracts fans.
This means that football in the country is trapped in a form of vicious cycle. So how can the Messi match help to find a way out of this?
Well if the organizers and Kazi Salahuddin is to be believed than this game can provide the right push to the BFF and the other stakeholders to promote the game and thereby bring in the right sponsors who can help bring the game up from the grassroots.
But worryingly, promotion has sadly been a weak point for football. Take the case of the Argentina game for example, where the TV rights was not sold to ESPN hence depriving a huge segment of the world a chance to see the teams in action at Dhaka. According to Independent TV, the contractual agreement only stated that they would have to provide feeds to Nigerian and Argentine television. This meant that unlike the India game, which was telecast to all parts of the world, this game was only seen by the people of the participating nations. This then goes completely against the idea of promoting Bangladesh as an able location for future friendly internationals.
But the marketing failure was not just restricted on that end. Promotional material for this game seemed immensely hard to come by with only a few stand banners and billboards proclaiming the arrival of Argentina. As such ticket sales also suffered.
But the hope is that the BFF will learn from these mistakes and the fact that they have managed to pull off a game of this calibre will provide a fresh impetus to help them attract more sponsors into the game. This then, will help to develop a youth structure, improve facilities and coaching standards at all levels.
But the BFF have to be quick. While the fallout from this game will keep people interested for the near future if this cannot be properly harnessed and channelled than football will soon return to its secondary status behind cricket and struggle for any form of recognition.
-With The Daily Star input