Bangladesh football fans are obsessed with overseas-born footballers. The success of national team captain Jamal Bhuyan and the recent call up of Tariq Kazi has attracted many overseas-born footballers to declare for Bangladesh. One of them is Sanjay Karim.
Sanjay Sardar Karim, the son of Enayet Karim who is a Mymensingh native, was born in the US. His impressive performances at college level earned him a move to German club FC Darmstadt and ultimately landed him a contract at Bangladesh Police. But due to unfortunate circumstances, he was unable to play for them. But the 23-year-old is determined to hit the big time.
The Business Standard had a chat with the Bangali American footballer about his time in Germany, Bangladesh, his inspirations, aspirations and the struggles and obstacles of being a professional footballer.
TBS: How are you coping with the quarantine?
Sanjay: Quarantine has been difficult for just about everyone, especially families who have suffered losses because of it, so I try not to complain because I am still blessed to be healthy, as well as all my friends and family. However, this pandemic did postpone the Bangladesh league, as well as trials I had around the world with top clubs. Quarantine has forced us to stay home and train at home, with much less football than we are used to, and that for me has been the most difficult part.
TBS: Who inspired you to become a footballer?
Sanjay: Ronaldinho was my main inspiration to become a footballer but the inspiration I gained from Cristiano Ronaldo and his story, drive, and work ethic is why I have come this far and will continue to push my limits and climb new heights.
TBS: How hard was it when you moved to Bangladesh from the US?
Sanjay: Honestly it was a very easy transition. I knew I was going into a new country but at the same time, I was achieving a lifelong goal of mine. Of course, it wasn't easy to leave my family and friends to come to the other side of the world but having my father's side of the family in Dhaka made it much easier. Seeing how proud my family and friends were everywhere in the world takes so much weight off my shoulders.
TBS: You've played in Germany with FC Darmstadt, how was that?
Sanjay: Germany was very beautiful and was an experience like no other. FCA Darmstadt recruited several top American players like me from the USL 2 or college to come to play. They lied and told us it was a 6th division German club and that it was a professional club but when we arrived we learned it was a lower semi-professional club. The training every day was very elite and we had a great training pitch and gym but the club didn't treat players well. They barely gave us food and we would be hungry most nights and mornings. Our living conditions were also subpar and it was not easy to wake up every day and work our hardest in those conditions but it made us better men and built a lot of character to not give up, and that was very important.
TBS: How was the experience playing with BD Police?
Sanjay: Playing with the BD Police was a wonderful experience. I had some issues trying to adjust to the football culture in the club because some players were not driven to be their best and everyone competing to be the best is the environment I am used to. I am used to players staying long hours before and after practice, always in the gym, and always eager to touch the ball around with their teammates. The language barrier was also difficult as the majority of players and even assistant coaches did not speak much English. But overall my head coach was very understanding and professional and I did grow as a player. It was unfortunate that I was unable to show my abilities and talents in the season with the club.
TBS: What is the hardest obstacle you had to face in becoming a footballer?
Sanjay: I began playing football at an older age of 15. So for me, the hardest obstacle was catching up to the players my age and then surpassing them as well. It took hours per day on a field and behind a laptop, or in a gym. I had to learn to sacrifice everything to be able to spend 6-8 hours every single day for years, training my body, skills, and mind, both on and off the pitch. I have sacrificed everything for this dream, and I will continue to do that until I can sign my first million-dollar contract, God willing, in the English Premier League or La Liga.
TBS: What's your aspiration?
Sanjay: I aspire to inspire the world the way athletes like Cr7, Kobe, Lebron James, Ronaldinho, and Michael Jordan have, but on an even bigger scale. God willing, I will continue to work hard and make it the Bangladesh National team. With a platform like that, we can work to help grow the country of Bangladesh for the next 50+ years. I want to inspire all ages of people to always chase their dreams and never let anyone tell you what is possible and not possible because ANYTHING is possible. And with that platform, eventually, I want to become a billionaire to help spark change in the world in the most positive way, as well as, take care of all my loved ones.
TBS: Do you plan to do anything after football?
Sanjay: After football, I certainly have plans to become a professional coach, as well as, open several businesses in all areas; music, fashion, youth academies, gyms, restaurants, and the list goes on! I made a plan for my life when I was younger, and if it's God's will, then I have many great things to achieve when I hang up my boots!
TBS: Would you like to say something to our readers?
Sanjay: To the readers: I want to thank you and everyone who supports me in my journey. I want everyone to truly believe that they can achieve greatness and that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. Someone took that same situation that you are complaining about and won with it. So be grateful for life constantly and with good faith, life is always great.