The youth brigade of league champions Abahani were stunned 1-0 by lightweights Farashganj's youths on the opening day of the Walton U-18 Football Tournament after the tournament's best-prepared side in the form of Saif SC's U-18 team stumbled to a 1-1 draw against their Brothers Union counterparts at Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Although the Bangladesh Premier League, the professional football league, has successfully completed ten editions, the youth competition for the professional clubs was not staged for the past four years due to a lack of interest from either the participating clubs or the Bangladesh Football Federation.
The first two editions of the youth football tournament were held in 2012 and 2014 without Sheikh Jamal, but this time all the clubs of the Bangladesh Premier League have sent teams to the tournament, an AFC-prescribed meet and one of the pre-conditions on the walk towards professionalism.
Although most of the clubs took shortcuts in preparing their youth teams, a few clubs like Saif SC and Arambagh maintain youth teams under their supervision and field them in the third division football league as well.
Saif SC, comprising of players from BKSP, prepared for nearly seven months and played a tournament in Noagaon with senior teams. They even clinched that tournament, named Abdul Jalil Gold Cup, as a part of their preparations but surprisingly failed to shine in the U-18 tournament, a platform for grooming players.
"I don't have any complaints about their passing, ball distribution and controlling but they squandered a lot of opportunities including a penalty. I think the pressure of being favourites got to them," said Saif SC Academy coordinator Arman Aziz.
In the day's second match, Farashganj, whose senior side were related from the top-tier league, stunned seven-time league champions Abahani with Rafiqul Islam scoring the decisive goal in stoppage time of the second half.
The beauty of the youth competition is that there are no heavyweights or lightweights as all the participating teams are of equal strength with unheralded budding footballers trying their best to impress the team management in a bid to land a contract and get called-up to the senior squad.