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Sheikh Mohammed Aslam interview: Bangladesh legend reflects on career

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Sheikh Mohammed Aslam is one of Bangladeshi football's golden boys.

His father Sheikh Ali Ahmed was a notable footballer and he encouraged the young Aslam to share his love for the beautiful game. "I started as an athlete and it was because of the support of my father that I became a footballer and achieved my boyhood ambitions.

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"I was playing competitive football whilst in Class 4 and it was just a dream come true as I progressed up the ladders of both club and country."

He learnt and honed his considerable playing skills whilst playing football barefooted at his family residence, the forecourt, roads, and bumpy fields.

Upbringing

"It is simply the greatest training methods for aspiring young footballers and there are thousands who did and still do the same as me," he said.

"We played in these unusual settings and imitated our heroes all day. There was no pressure to bring in silverware, perform, achieve and the only emphasis we placed on ourselves was to enjoy to the maximum and to develop the freedom to express ourselves.

"It helped me become a half decent footballer and it is a refreshing attitude that I believe should be adopted by today's grassroots coaches.

"Young people playing with carefree attitudes will develop into better and more technical footballers. Today there's a lot of emphasis on strength, power, on speed, and although this is important, we are losing the raw skill elements from the players performances."

Golden Past

The 58-year-old is currently touring the UK with Sonali Othith Bangladesh. The name of the team roughly translates as "Golden Past," and is made up of veterans who have played out careers in the Bangladeshi Leagues as well as the national team.

Aslam gained his greatest fame while playing for Abahani Krira Chakra, one of Dhaka's two major football clubs. He was a lynchpin of several league-winning Abahani sides, and was the national league's leading scorer several times.

During his playing career Aslam enjoyed some momentous career highlights. The barnstorming hit man was top scorer in the Bangladesh Premier League for five years; 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989.

Aslam scored 176 career goals - all in the top flight Premier League. His 38 international goals make him Bangladesh's record goal scorer at national level. He said: "It was a golden period for my career.

"We were unbeatable and it was amazing being the fulcrum of the attack of such a powerful and successful team.

"I'm in my fifties now but I still have people hugging me, inviting me for tea and food and congratulating me wherever I go. I understand their sense of love and reverence. This is an emotion that is unique to the world of football."

Aslam is still a pin up boy for Bangladesh after establishing himself as one of the country's greatest ever marksmen. The national hero grew up watching Pele but for the legendary number 9 it was another famous number 9 - the flying Dutchman who became his best player.

"Johan Cruyff was for me the greatest player I have ever seen and he was my favourite."

"The Flying Dutchman influenced my style of play. Cruyff was handsome, he was of a slight build and effortlessly rode and navigated the attentions of some of the world's strongest and aggressive defenders.

"He was like a prince and he conducted that Dutch team like an emperor did with his army. His skill and mark on the game will never be forgotten."

Career high

Aslam's greatest moment in the lush green shirt of Bangladesh came in 1986 when he netted a hat trick against Finland. The moment cemented his place amongst the echelons of the greatest Bangladeshi players.

Bangladesh Football Federation Chief Rakib Khandoker had feared a heavy Bangladesh loss but had promised Aslam a reward of 10,000 Taka if the gifted frontman made history by scoring Bangladesh's first ever goal against a European nation.

Aslam was in brutal mode. After Bangladesh went 2-0 down he unleashed a devastating hat trick to exact a brilliant comeback. He explained: "On a purely individual basis it was the greatest moment of my career."

Aslam believes the English Premier League is the best league in the world. "No other league comes close. The passion amongst fans is also second to none. In England the crowds in the second and third tiers have larger attendances than some of the biggest leagues in world football.

"The Premier League attracts the best players and the TV revenue is single handedly supporting it to become the place where the world's best players want to be seen.

"I cannot wait to see the day a Bangladeshi will play in this league."

For now Aslam is enjoying participating on the UK tour: "It's great to be touring, meeting known faces and making new friends, travelling and sight seeing whilst playing football in one of the world's great capitals - London. We have had a tremendous reception and I hope that football can be used to build positive bridges between our two nations."

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