Man with the Midas touch Amanulla holds Sri Lanka’s football future | Sunday Observer

Man with the Midas touch Amanulla holds Sri Lanka’s football future

10 October, 2021

Sri Lanka Under-23 squad compriing Shenal Sandesh (Blue Star SC), Daniel Magrath Gomez (Blue Star SC), Mohamed Aakib (Colombo FC), Abdul Basith (Colombo FC), Shabeer Razooniya (Colombo FC), Muhammadh Shakir (Colombo FC), Rifkhan Mohamed (Defenders FC), Nuwan Gimhana (Defenders FC), Sasanga Dilhara (Defenders FC), Brian Weerappuli (Matara City Club), Bathurtheen Thasleem (New Star SC), Chathuranga Fernando (New Youngs FC), Rumesh Mendis (New Youngs FC), Lakshan Dananjaya (New Youngs FC), Kavin Sucharith (New Youngs FC), Mariyanesan Pirasanth (Ratnam SC), Muhemad Murshid (Ratnam SC), Varatharaja Jaksan (Ratnam SC), Mohamed Mushfir (Renown SC), Mohamed Sajid (Renown SC), Mohamed Aman (Renown SC), Raza Rumy (Renown SC), Asela Madushan (Sea Hawks FC), Avishka Deshan (Sea Hawks FC), Udayanga Perera (Sea Hawks FC), Mohamed Kurshith (Sea Hawks FC), Dhananjaya de Silva (Sea Hawks FC), Avishka Kavindu (Sea Hawks FC), Shishan Prabudda (SL Police SC), Hashika Nawoda (SL Police SC), Pathum Vimukthi (Up Country Lions), Kannan Thenushan (Uruthirapuran SC), Yuvarasa Thanusan (Uruthirapuran SC) Pix by Sudath Malaweera

‘If I cannot do this, out I go’, says the man who could have made the grade in cricket but preferred football:

Former Sri Lanka football great Mohideen Mohamed Amanulla seems to have the Midas touch both as a player and coach. He was the winner of the ‘Golden Boot’ award when Sri Lanka won the SAFF Cup (previously known as SAARC Gold Cup) for the first time when it was hosted in Colombo in 1995 and was head coach when the team thumped Bangladesh 4-0 in an Asian qualifier in 2010.

A fine all-round cricketer who starred for Zahira College, Colombo scoring 990 runs and capturing 65 wickets in one season, Amanulla was selected to the Sri Lanka Under-17 pool. However, he struck gold as a brilliant goal poacher for Renown and the national team during a dazzling career during which Sri Lanka’s football reached great heights before the turn of the new millennium.

Nearly two decades after he called time on his international career in 2000 at the relatively young age of 30, Amanulla has been entrusted with the future of Sri Lanka football. Appointed Sri Lanka Under-19 coach two years ago, he proved his credentials by guiding the team to creditable performances in the Under-19 South Asian tournament and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup in Qatar resulting in the governing body FSL (Football Sri Lanka) retaining the 25-member squad.

Armed with an ‘A’ coaching licence to add to his Level 3 certificate from the England FA (Football Association) which he obtained in 2010, Amanulla was invited to take charge of the Sri Lanka Under-19 team.

“I told them if you are giving me (the job) on a long term, I will do it,” said Amanulla who transformed the youth side into a potent unit within a short time span giving a good account of themselves against Qatar, Yemen and Turkmenistan.

He does not believe in shortcuts to success. Just like in a game of football where patience is required to create openings with positional play, Amanulla is laying the building blocks to feed the national side in the future being given charge of the Sri Lanka Under-23 team last month.

Sri Lanka will take part in the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers in Doha later this month. With limited preparation and up against Syria, Yemen and hosts Qatar in group A, it will be a tough ask to expect Sri Lanka to make an impression with only the group winners advancing to the final round.

“It will be tough because we did not have enough time to prepare because of the coronavirus but we will do our best. We are trying to play friendly matches in Qatar,” said Amanulla. The 33-member squad will depart this weekend ahead of the October 25 to 31 tournament.

“This squad was supposed to play in the 2022 qualifiers. My target is the 2023 AFC Cup U-23 tournament,” said Amanulla, who has retained the bulk of the players from the under-19 squad.

The Sri Lanka Under-23 squad will be bolstered by senior national players Mohamed Aqib (Colombo FC), Aman Faizer (Renown) and Rifkan Mohamed (Defenders) who are currently in the Maldives for the SAFF Cup.

“We have about 15 players from that team. Senior players born in 1999 and also players born in 2001. These players will play in the AFC Cup 2023 qualifying round next year. They are starting the process right now. The target is the 2023 Asian Cup,” reiterated Amanulla.

Asked about the balance and composition of the team, he said: “We have good midfield players and strikers but we are lacking in defence right now. We could not have trials. After coming back, once the situation improves, I will scout all over the island to select players.”

One of the greatest strikers Sri Lanka has produced, Amanulla must be having a profound influence on the young squad. He came off the bench to score a brace in a historic 2-2 draw against India during their victorious campaign in the 1995 SAFF Cup in which he scored three goals with one of them being rated as the best goal of the week and month on Star TV.

“I like to play attacking football but we are going to play against top teams. I don’t think we will be able to play attacking football. We will defend and do some counter attacking. My philosophy is I like to keep positional play. We have a long term plan to develop. I will teach players how to play positional play. We may be blocking in midfield but once we get the ball we should act very quickly,” said Amanulla who retired after Sri Lanka won the Freedom Cup in the Maldives in 2000 during which tournament he was joint captain with Roshan Perera.

He continued to play club football till he was 37, also turning out for Ratnam SC and began his coaching career with D.S. Senanayake before steering Renown from bottom to become unbeaten champions in his second year. Under his watch, Renown continued to reign supreme for four years being edged out on goal difference in the Super League.

Before their maiden triumph in the SAARC tournament in 1995, Sri Lanka fancied their chances in 1993 and 1997.

“We could have become SAARC champions in 1993 if we had beaten Nepal who held us to a draw. We were silver medallists having lost to India by just one goal. In 1997, we were favourites to enter the final having beaten Nepal 3-1 playing with 10 players and Pakistan but we lost in the semifinals to the Maldives due to overconfidence and we didn’t have luck,” recalled Amanulla who ended his career on a high with his second gold medal when they beat teams from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and host Maldives to triumph in the Freedom Cup.

The former Sri Lanka skipper lauded the national squad participating in the SAFF Cup for playing with a lot of self-belief although he felt they should have played a more attacking game. “In SAFF, I don’t believe in playing defensive football. However, our performance was good especially in the second game (against Nepal). Both teams got a lot of chances. We have the belief that we can give a fight against other countries,” he said speaking after Sri Lanka lost the opener to Bangladesh 1-0 and were edged out by Nepal 3-2.

Amanulla has a lot of faith in Sri Lanka’s under-23 squad and believes there are future national stars among them. “Of course there are so many potential national players in my squad from 2019. Definitely they will play. I will keep this squad for my success. They have to get experience by playing together. It will be like a future national squad,” said the 51-year-old Amanulla who has set high standards as a coach and is result-oriented.

“I will definitely take them to a top level because in 2023 if I don't achieve success, I won’t get involved with the national team again. I will take up the challenge. I will deliver, if not I will go out,” said Amanulla, buoyed by the return of former Sri Lanka team fitness trainer Brazilian Marcos on his request.

“If they (FSL) provide me what I need, I will deliver results,” said Amanulla, who aims to provide international exposure to the squad.

“I need friendly matches every 60 days. I want to take my team to countries who play good football for one month training camps. These are the conditions I have given. If they provide all those things, definitely we will perform well in the Asian 2023 qualifiers. If they don't perform, I will go out from the national squad,” he reiterated.

Group A fixtures:

* October 25: Qatar v Yemen, Syria v Sri Lanka
* October 28: Sri Lanka v Qatar, Yemen v Syria
* October 31: Syria v Qatar, Yemen v Sri Lanka