African footballers flock to Bangladesh
- 27 February 2013
- From the section Asia
Awudu Ibrahim thought his playing career was over when his contract was not renewed at an amateur Dutch football club seven years ago. But soon he ended up in Bangladesh and now he is one of the star players in the Bangladeshi Premier League.
Far from his home in Accra, Ghana, Ibrahim has been enjoying playing football for Abahani in Dhaka, one of the top clubs in Bangladesh, for the last seven seasons.
"When my friend first told me about Bangladesh I was hesitant. I didn't know much about the country," Mr Ibrahim says.
"First, I came here for a practice session and then ended up playing for the club."
The success of players like Ibrahim has attracted many foreign footballers to the Bangladeshi Premier League, which became professional in 2006.
At the moment, there are more than 50 foreign players in the league, mainly from Africa. During the season it is common to see African players dominating the sports pages of newspapers.
Today, football in Bangladesh is dominated by players from Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco and Cameroon. Players from these countries have become a standard fixture in the league.
"Football is now growing in Bangladesh. That's why it is attracting many African players. Whenever I go home, my friends ask me about this league, they want to come and play," says Abdul Samad Yussif, another Ghanaian footballer playing for Abahani.
The Bangladeshi league may not be as rich as European football leagues but it's paying enough to keep its overseas players. Officials say foreigners get as much as $2,000 (£1,320) a month.
Football used to be the number one sport in the country. But cricket has become more popular.
Bangladesh Football Federation officials say the arrival of African players is helping return the game to prominence. They hope it will help to bring the fans back to the stadiums.
"African players are physically strong and their skills are higher than our players. If you compete with quality foreign players, then our players will also become better," says Kazi Salahuddin, president of the Bangladesh Football Federation.
Mr Salahuddin says once the standard of football improves in his country, Bangladeshi footballers could end up playing in European or other foreign leagues.
Although the Bangladesh league has been lucrative for African players, some of them say there are drawbacks to playing in a country like Bangladesh.
"We miss out on entertainment. In Europe, I used to go out with friends and had lots of things to do. Here, we don't have that many events. But as a professional we have to respect the local culture," says Ibrahim.
Some are also struggling with being away from their families as their contracts don't allow them to bring them to Bangladesh.
"I miss my family a lot. It is difficult. But when I came to Bangladesh I saw many Nigeria players. They have made it easier for me," says Damian Udeh, a Nigerian footballer playing for Mohammaden club.
But not all fans are convinced that the arrival of African players have improved the league. Some say the intense rivalry between local clubs - for example between Abahani and Mohammaden - has been lost.
"There are better players in our country. The league will be good with our own players. We don't need foreign players," says a fan of Abahani club.
Some of the fans may differ but few disagree that the African players have brought a new dimension to football in Bangladesh.