Former ESPN Star Sports pundit Steve Darby has said that he has tried to sign Maldives national team striker Ali Ashfaq twice for South East Asian teams.
The 62-year old former goalkeeper started his managerial work back in 1979 and managed the teams like Bahrain national team, Sydney Onlympic, Johor, Home United, Perak, Thailand national team, Thailand Under 23 team, Mohun Bagan, Kelantan, Mumbai FC and Laos national team. He is well know throughout in Asia as a football pundit for ESPN Star Sports.
In an exclusive interview with Maldivesfootball.com, Stephen David (Steve) Darby shared his view about the development of the game in the Maldives. The following is the complete interview with Steve Darby.
Have you seen any improvement in the Maldives football during the past couple of years as you had managed teams against Maldivian clubs during the AFC Cup?
It has to be yes! The reality of football is that you will be judged on results. Forget all this how you play or philosophy football at profession level is all about results... winning or getting decent result against the super powers such as Korea which Maldives did.
Based on your experience what are we lacking to make it to the next level?
Like anything in football. Progress is dictated by finance. If you have money you can get great training facilities, Gyms and money for experience gaining tours. A strong stable league also helps the national team. Getting quality foreigners is a great help, but they must be excellent professional on and off the pitch, not just mercenaries or tourists.
Do you believe that the Maldives has the qualify of competing in ASEAN region other than SAFF?
This is never going to happen so it is a hypothetical question not worth trying to answer. Winning SAFF every year and the question becomes valid.
There are very few Maldivian players who got the chance of playing abroad. What was the reason for this?
Geographical isolation is a problem, both in a physical sense and in a media sense. No one gets to hear or see the players so obviously little interest. I think there is ability amongst the players, the next step would be to get into the I league or even better ISL. But also the players must be hungry to develop. If they are happy in the Maldives with both the football or salary then they will never develop. They have to be self driven. They have to want to be a success on a bigger stage.
Most of the football pundits in the region said that Ali Ashfaq is a complete player and one of the best in this region. What is your view about him?
I think he is a top class player and I have tried to sign him twice for SE Asian teams. Every time I tried I was thwarted by agent demands, so it is essential he gets a good agent that allows him to develop as a player. He did very well in Malaysia and if he does well people will look at who else is in Maldives. He is the Ambassador and so far has done an excellent job. The kids must now want to be the next Ali Ashfaq and maybe even bigger and better.
Unlike other countries we do not have stadiums for each club and the clubs are sharing the same stadium as well as the training grounds. Was it an obstacle to develop the game?
I think it is a problem, but lets be realistic land is such a valued asset it appears developing grounds will be difficult, unless land reclamation from the sea such as Bahrain happens. But more importantly training facilities are essential. Also quality Coach education programs and nutrition lifestyles education for young players. It can be done, look at the development in Vietnam, they are making long term development programs and they are paying off.
What is you view about developing the game in all the islands. Since the islands are all scattered.
This is a problem that needs local knowledge to answer. Again finance is the key so that coaches can go to the islands on a regular basis and work with the players and act as Talent Identification. A planned organised coaching and possible tournament program is essential.
Maldives is playing in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers now and can they do well in this group? What is your prediction?
Obviously fighting for that second spot in the group. Hard work, support (by admin, fans, media) is needed and as usual in football a little bit of luck! Win the home games and get a few draws away from home and I believe its possible.
As per our information you are a close friend of our current head coach Darren Stewart. What would say about his appointment to the hot seat?
I think its an excellent decision. He has international experience as a player in Australia and played for me as my Captain in Malaysia. He was a top class captain and showed true leadership. As he graduated into coaching he has been successful wherever he has gone. I think he will do well with Maldives, he understands football and footballers and is a players coach. I hope he gets the support from the fans and media that the players will give him. I know he is loving the job and thinks there are some top class players in the squad.
I think the future for Maldives football is bright, the key is finance and quality stable administration.