Considered the 'penalty specialist', Anisur Rahman Zico has won three consecutive Bangladesh Football Premier League titles in his three full seasons with Bashundhara Kings.
The safest hands in Bangladesh, Zico came into the limelight when his penalty save helped the Kings reach the Independence Cup semifinal in 2018 before that brilliant performance in front of the goal bar against Qatar in 2020.
Zico talked about the secret behind the Kings' success, his experience with the Kings and how they are helping Bangladesh football going forward and also his dream of winning Bangladesh a trophy by scoring a penalty and much more while talking to The Business Standard (TBS) in an exclusive interview.
You've played three full seasons with Bashundhara Kings in the Premier League, and won hattrick league titles. What is the secret behind Kings' success?
We have a very good and professional team. No other team in the league is managed this professionally as Bashundhara Kings. And now we are aiming to bag all three domestic trophies next season. And obviously, hunger is very important.
How has your experience been with the Kings both on and off the field?
It has been brilliant so far, honestly. I wasn't the first-choice goalkeeper when I started here. I worked hard and the teammates and coaching staff supported me throughout to reach where I am now. There is always a challenge when you play for the Kings, and it helped.
You've played for a few clubs before Kings, how are they different from others?
The management here is supportive and professional. They provide us with anything and everything that we need to do well on the field. Also, the management has brought in some good coaches over the years. I haven't seen any other clubs being managed this professionally in our domestic football. That is why the players are committed and always ready to give their best for the team.
How do you think Bashundhara Kings are helping Bangladesh football going forward?
I think Bashundhara Kings have taken Bangladesh football to the international stage in recent years after a long gap. They are producing more and more local footballers, trying to create a competitive atmosphere. They have also built their own stadium last year. I believe that if Bashundhara can continue what they are doing for the next few years, it will be very fruitful for Bangladesh football.
Bashundhara Kings haven't had international success yet, what are their targets there?
Our team management is now targeting a consistent second round of the AFC Asian Cup, at least. AFC Asian Cup is more physical, I guess we lack in that regard. We need a few more quality foreign recruits to be able to play more physical football there.
Talking about the Kings' stadium, how did the Bashundhara Kings Arena make an impact last season?
It had a huge impact on us. Home support is always important and an extra boost for the players. It was something we had never experienced before.
Was it anything like what we see in European football, the home team advantage?
Absolutely. In the final match against Dhaka Abahani, the whole stadium was painted red with 'Champions' t-shirts. The crowd was cheering for us all through the match. We couldn't win any match against Dhaka Abahani in the season before, but that home support inspired us and we eventually beat them.
We've seen a real strong team bonding among the Kings, how important was it behind the success?
Team bonding is everything. You can't do much if you don't have a good bonding among the players. Our coach Oscar Bruzon has really helped us build a strong bonding. He always tries to keep the team a happy family. That really helps.
How has Oscar Bruzon helped you grow as a player?
Oscar had the faith in me from the very beginning. He gave me the chance when there were better and more experienced keepers on the side. We have a very good understanding. He is always demanding, and that helped me to be better every day.
How did your football journey start? Did you always want to be a keeper?
I was a bit healthy in my early days. People would take me to play because I had a ball, but they would only make me the goalkeeper. But I wanted to be a striker early on (laughs). I played as a keeper in a local tournament back in 2007. I made a few good saves. Everyone was impressed. And it all started from there.
How did you come to Dhaka and become a professional footballer?
A few years later, I played a local tournament with some of the senior brothers. One of my senior brothers asked me to practice in the stadium but my family didn't allow me to play football back then. So he asked whether I could travel to Dhaka and continue playing there. Since my family didn't allow it, I told them I was going to my sister's house. Then I gave a few trials in Farashganj SC and signed for them in 2014.
You made your international debut against Nepal in 2020, tell us about that
I was with the national team for a long time before making my debut. I played a few friendly matches, but they weren't counted as international ones. And I had worked hard during the lockdown. It paid off.
Were you feeling nervous when you came to know that you'd be making your debut against Nepal? Was that the best feeling?
It all happened so suddenly. Jamie Day asked me if I was ready to play the day before, but nothing was confirmed. When I saw my name on the team sheet, I was surprised and happy at the same time. And I was thinking about how I could do well. It was a great feeling, yeah.
That match against Qatar mainly brought you into the limelight. Since then there have been more pressure and expectations from you. How have you coped with that?
That match gave me a lot of confidence. Qatar is a world cup-playing team, doing good against them was really satisfying. That performance put extra responsibilities on my shoulder, and I'm trying hard to be better and give my best every time I play.
Is goalkeeping the most challenging job playing for Bangladesh? Considering we mostly play defensive football
Yes, it is really challenging. You have to keep your concentration for the whole 90 minutes. Sometimes, the keeper has to make 15 to 20 saves in a match.
When you know you have to save 15-20 shots in the match, does this add extra pressure on you or does it work as a motivation?
If I feel pressure then it will be bad for the team. I try to keep myself motivated and communicate as much as I can with my defenders. We can't be afraid beforehand.
Bangladesh haven't had any international success for a long time. Also, they are way behind in the Fifa rankings. What do you think needs to change to improve the situation?
I guess our main problem is that we can't score enough goals. If you've noticed, we have been playing some good football in the past few years. But we mostly draw or lose matches because of the lack of proper finishers. On the field, I think we need good finishers.
And off the field, players' facilities need to improve. Also, the grounds we play in our domestic matches are really poor. Players find it hard to adjust when they go abroad.
You are nicknamed the "penalty specialist", how did this come up?
I saved the most penalties last season. I have saved numerous penalties over the past few seasons as well. But the name came up when I saved a penalty in the tie-breaker and won a match against Rahmatganj MFS in Walton Independence Cup 2018.
Do you have any dreams of winning an international trophy for Bangladesh by saving a penalty?
Aminul Bhai (Aminul Haque) saved a penalty and won Bangladesh the SAFF Championship back in 2003. That was the last time we won that trophy. I want to win a trophy by scoring a penalty after saving one.
Do you study European elite keepers? And who is your favourite goalie?
Yes, I have to study and research their keeping if I want to get better. I mostly follow Jordan Pickford, Manuel Neuer and Allison Becker.
Pickford is quite an unusual name here, which aspect of him do you like the most?
He is very aggressive and his reaction saves are really interesting. Also, I like the way he communicates with his defenders.
Fifa World Cup is coming up soon. When do you think Bangladesh will play in the WC? And what needs to be done to qualify for the WC?
It's really tough for me to say. We have to improve our world ranking by winning more matches. Also, our infrastructure needs to be improved. It will take time. I can't say exactly when. There needs to be a proper plan regarding this.
Who will be the favourites this time?
I think four teams have a really good chance this time. Brazil, Argentina, Spain and France.