Sri Lanka football hit by discontent, indiscipline | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka football hit by discontent, indiscipline

28 November, 2021
Naina Mohamed
Naina Mohamed

Former national star deplores disgraceful behaviour of players and questions coach’s tactics:

Sri Lanka football may be rising from the abyss gradually after some creditable performances in the SAFF Cup in Male and the Mahinda Rajapaksa Trophy four-nation invitation tournament at home, but the discipline of players has sunk to alarming levels, according to a former national star.

Hooliganism in sport is usually associated with spectators who are fiercely loyal and tend to go overboard sometimes when they openly display their allegiance to club or in some cases country.

Football is considered a ‘beautiful game’ despite the idiosyncratic behaviour of some greats who have been idolised because of their dazzling artistry.

Sri Lanka could also boast of many role models in the sport which enjoys a rich tradition for more than a century.

But what should have been a celebration of the sport returning to all its glory amid much fanfare with FIFA president Gianni Infantino no less in attendance was littered with disgraceful behaviour of some national players and failure of the head coach to inspire.

Where in the world do you get players running from the bench across the field to celebrate a goal or get involved in scuffles with opposing players?

“Even the FIFA president must be wondering what was happening when a reserve player ran through the middle of the pitch to the corner flag to celebrate a goal. The discipline of players on the bench was zero. They were even trying to coach during water breaks perhaps confusing the players on the pitch who were following the coach’s plans,” said former Sri Lanka striker Naina Mohamed.

Sri Lanka’s foreign head coach Amir Alagic seems to have lost the plot by faithfully following the advice of a youngster manning the Catapult-analyzing system to make changes during matches.

He was seen holding his head in frustration in one match failing to motivate his players when the chips were down before jumping with joy more in relief when Sri Lanka scored a goal.

It was the individual brilliance of players like Waseem Razeek that saved the blushes for Sri Lanka and not the strategies of a coach who is also Technical Director of Football Sri Lanka (FSL).

The governing body needs to rethink its strategic plans, inculcate discipline within the team by reining in players who misbehave because of their over exuberance and bring in a coach who thinks of the human element than just depending entirely on a machine to make decisions.

Giving a detailed match-by-match analysis, former Zahira College, York SC and Sri Lanka centre-forward Naina Mohamed was largely critical of the tactics adopted by the coach when it came to selections and players on the bench for lacking discipline.

“During the first match we were trailing Maldives 0-4. Then we equalised 4-4 and luckily the match ended in a draw. The players showed courage and with their commitment they managed to draw. All credit should go to the players,” he said.

But he felt more questions should be asked on why they conceded four goals in the first place.

“All were talking only the positive side of this game. Mistakes of this game should have been properly analysed and rectified before the next game,” he said.

“During the second match (against Seychelles) the coach’s first XI team selection and also the player positioning was wrong. Five changes took place but only Kavindu’s (Perera) replacement was a correct move,” he said.

“Coach does not have an understanding of players and their right positions. He was constantly changing the positions of players. The player who goes in should be better than one taken out,” he pointed out.

Although Naina praised Alagic for his positive approach during the third match against Bangladesh, he was critical of him for his lack of engagement.

“The coach knew if we won 2-1 we would be in the final. He was holding his head and spinning around. After we scored a goal, he was energised. Even with 10 players he should motivate and instruct players. We can score a goal any time. Instead the bench players were seen ‘coaching’ during injury time and water breaks,” Naina said.

“While the match was in progress the coach made a few replacements which was not a good decision at that moment. Due to this the opposition scored a goal against us and equalised the game. From that point onwards, the coach was silent and did not engage in the game. After we managed to score another goal through a penalty, the coach got back to the game and started interacting,” he added.

“In this game most of our players and officials who were in the dug-out were seen instructing the players during an injury or water break. This confused our players who were on the field. If the coach had taken the upper hand, this incident wouldn’t have happened. But luckily, we won the game and qualified for the final,” he said.

Alagic made the biggest blunder in the final against Seychelles when he removed two key players when Sri Lanka were leading 3-1 with a few minutes left in the game.

“All the players were performing well and did their best to lead 3-1. The coach made replacements at the wrong time which saw Seychelles equalising 3-3. When the players were well synchronized and playing putting their heart and soul to the match, the replacement of two defenders turned the game against us,” Naina rued.

Alagic apparently also failed to motivate the players during the penalty shootout which Sri Lanka lost 3-1.

“The coach was seated aside and did not give any instructions to the players. At the end the trophy slipped away from us,” said Naina.

He was of the opinion that both in the Maldives where India were held to a goalless draw and in the Sri Lankan event, Alagic did not have an idea about his first XI and also accused the coach of having favourites.

“He should know his playing XI the day before the match. Players are also chosen for unaccustomed positions,” he said.

Although commending Alagic for improving the players’ level of fitness and endurance, Naina was critical of his team selections.

“The head coach seems to have a set of favourite players. So, the priority is given to them. Even replacements during the match take place based on favouritism. I did not see any replacements that took place strategically,” he said.

“We did not come to the final because of his (Alagic’s) expertise, but on players’ talents,” summed up Naina.