Sri Lanka football star Waseem Razeek has hit back at claims that he is only interested in money and not loyal to his country after making himself unavailable for next month’s final round of AFC Cup qualifiers in Uzbekistan over a pay dispute with the governing body for the sport Football Sri Lanka (FSL).
“I won’t participate in the upcoming AFC qualifying matches for Sri Lanka due to some shortcomings of the management. I wish my team all the best,” Waseem posted on his official Instagram account.
One of the first foreign players of Sri Lankan origin parents to play for the country, the 27-year-old Germany-born winger raised the profile of the sport with some stellar performances, especially during the four-nation Prime Minister’s Trophy tournament in Colombo last year.
Winner of the Golden Boot award with seven goals, Waseem was sidelined by former national coach Nizam Packeer Ally but rose to prominence when Bosnian-born Australian Amir Alagic was head coach of the national team during the last two years.
He spearheaded Sri Lanka’s resurgence in the international arena scoring twice during the 3-2 loss against Lebanon in the 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers last year. Although Sri Lanka was thumped by South Korea, the team dubbed the ‘Golden Army’ returned with their heads held high.
Waseem’s exciting talents came to the fore as Sri Lanka fought tooth and nail during the SAFF Cup in the Maldives where they held mighty India to a goalless draw and provided the silver lining when the host nation came agonizingly close to winning a 4-nation tournament with FIFA president Gianni Infantino no less in attendance.
In any other country, he would have been treated like a national hero but in a country where players take the brunt when they fail to deliver and officials take the kudos when the team brings glory, Waseem was miffed when a top FSL official wanted to take the credit for his performances on the field after the 4-nation event.
“What upset me was when the (FSL) president (Jaswar Umar) said ‘Waseem I am the reason you got to perform’. This is why I got upset, disappointed, and angry,” revealed Waseem in an explosive interview with the Sunday Observer from his hotel room in Kolkata where he was involved in Gokulam Kerala FC’s successful campaign to become the first team in India’s I-League to defend its title with a 2-1 victory over Mohammedan Sporting.
Thereafter the controversial and outspoken player decided to become a rebel with a cause taking on the establishment on behalf of all the national players upset by the response of the FSL president.
“That really changed my mind. From that day on, I don’t care. He (Jaswar) can say whatever he wants. I decided from hereafter I will be expensive for him. I wanted to get proper contracts for the (national) players. I am fighting for all the players because they are from poor backgrounds. They won’t talk much,” said Waseem.
He accused the FSL of treating players like slaves, undermining their real value as national players and failing to deliver on promises.
“They (FSL) said there are FIFA regulations that don’t allow them to give contracts. That’s a joke,” said Waseem, accusing the incumbent FSL president of not keeping up to his promise of awarding contracts to national players.
“They promised us to give us a contract of one year in July 2021 before the election and after the election. Nothing happened. We had the SAFF Cup in October. Myself and captain Sujan (Perera) went to discuss salary starting with rupees one lakh. They agreed to pay Rs 80,000 to four or five players and the rest 50 to 60 thousand,” said Waseem who has been negotiating with the football management.
Perhaps the outcome of that was FSL agreeing to an allowance of Rs 100,000, up from a measly Rs 15,000 for each player in addition to a bonus of Rs 200,000 each for a win or draw against the Maldives in the upcoming AFC Cup.
For his part, Waseem reminded them about their false promises and bitter experiences in the past when he was asked for his availability to join the national team for the AFC tournament. He was persuaded by his father Jamaldeen Razeek, a former Sri Lanka hockey international, to play for his country for free. But what broke the camel’s back was when Waseem was accused of putting a price to play for Sri Lanka at a press conference when the FSL president unveiled two new coaches from Qatar.
Waseem was outraged by the public pronouncement when it was inferred that a national player should play for the country and not for money.
“After the press conference I decided, he (FSL president) has two options. He (Jaswar) apologises in front of the media telling me he needs me or the team needs me at least because this was embarrassing.
The second option is when assistant coach Hassan Rumy called me, I decided money talks. If the boys get one lakh, I want five lakhs plus insurance. If I play for the national team and get injured then my future is gone. At least I have to get proper insurance,” he said defiantly even as the FSL president asked him to reconsider his decision.
They (officials) think they are more powerful than us. They don’t know our value. They don’t have any respect (for players),” charged Waseem who represented Germany’s under-16 and under-17 national teams.
For someone who was born and brought up in Germany and featured in the Bundesliga, what Waseem gets as a professional is peanuts. “We have to compare in Euros or dollars. If I divide it, before I got 250 Euros, now it is 95 Euros,” he pointed out because of the depreciation in the Sri Lanka rupee.
A little-known fact is that Waseem engages in humanitarian projects and does charity work in his father’s home city of Badulla.
“The money I get is just for my projects. I am helping other people. I said to them (FSL), the money which you pay for me is just for my charity work with my wife and my coffee which I usually drink every day. Nothing else. They have to consider the current situation where everything is expensive,” he added.
He questioned why the FSL cannot pay players in dollars like what cricketers get. “They (FSL) get funds in dollars from AFC and FIFA because the federation is not supported by the government. The question is on what do they spend the money,” he asked.
He also slammed the selections for the AFC Cup which were based on provincial representation to appease the different leagues.
“When the new coach came and saw the team, he was shocked. He (Jaswar) got players from provinces from where he got the vote. That’s very obvious. These players had not played in the Super League. It’s a joke. He changed the complete squad,” said Waseem who was instrumental in getting stars like Fazal Mohamed and Chamod Dilshan back into the squad.
He questioned the wisdom of selecting an entirely new squad sans experience to feature in the final round of the AFC Cup. “What does the FSL want us to achieve? It’s a final round Sri Lanka had never played before. It’s a huge opportunity. We have worked a lot for this,” said Waseem who found it difficult to integrate into the national team with his European experience at the beginning.
It was former FSL president Anura de Silva who gave Waseem the opening to play for Sri Lanka and still considers him to be a real asset. “Anura (de Silva) was the only guy who was very loyal to me. I have to respect him because he gave me a lot of respect,” said Waseem who first represented Sri Lanka against Turkmenistan in 2019 but was sidelined by then national coach Packeer Ally.
Little wonder, he gave due credit to Alagic for transforming the attitude and character of Sri Lanka players. “Alagic prepared the team well and developed players a lot to reach maximum. As a coach, he has helped us develop Sri Lanka football. Usually, we fight to not concede a goal. That was Sri Lanka football earlier. We were very proud and happy when we just lost 1-0. We never tried to score a goal. He changed the way of playing, how to play, and where to put the players in positions. I have huge respect for him. He had good results. Sometimes even though we lost we were much better than the opposition,” he said.
But all the good work may be undone by the decision to change the squad. “We have to start from the beginning again. I don’t have the heart for this,” he said slamming the provincial tournament as a farce.
“The provincial tournament is a joke. Players just go sit in a bus, go for matches to the north, or from Jaffna to Ampara for matches. I saw some players messaging me and criticising the food,” he said.
Talking about food, he revealed how his wife, a teacher at British School in Colombo, had to cook and bring food for the players during the 4-nation tournament.
On a positive note, Waseem lauded the decision to bring former Manchester City captain Andrew Morrison as the best made by the FSL president Jaswar Umar thus far. “He (Morrison) has a plan, idea, and vision for Sri Lanka. He can make a huge impact but he also can’t do it without players and within two weeks,” said Waseem criticizing the FSL for being idle after the 4-nation tournament.
“There was so much time in the past but nothing happened. There was an international break in March where we were supposed to play. If you want to be at the international level, to be seen in the international market, you have to play as much as possible. Nothing was going on because he (Jaswar) was busy with his stuff. How to win elections, how to get votes, sports ministry, and court matters,” he said.
“I don’t care who the president is. I want the future of football to be much better, especially for the national team,” said Waseem.
“We have won a lot of fans. Even national players from other countries respect us now. They know they can’t take Sri Lanka for a joke. I don’t want us to lose the hard-earned respect. We have given the maximum and made personal sacrifices by staying in a bio bubble. We always got better and better. Winning against Bangladesh with one man less was a big achievement. We have made a huge impact in the region,” he said but lamented over the treatment meted out to national football stars.
“If professional players don’t get a monthly salary, how are they going to feed their households? Some of them are married and have kids. We get salaries now to survive, not to enjoy. A national player should be a star. They should be treated with honour and respect. I feel ashamed when they ask me for a ‘loan’ of Rs 1,000 to buy essential items. Now the situation is much more expensive and obviously, they have to earn more. I was fighting for their rights as well. I heard they have got a new financial package. I still didn’t receive an offer from their (FSL) side. Therefore, I refused to play for the national team in upcoming matches,” he said.
“I received an email earlier to reconsider my decision. How can I change my mind if the situation is the same? Should I say ‘sorry I wrote the letter when I said no by mistake but now I will come’? What do they think after offending me at the Press conference? I don’t care about them. I know there are people (in FSL) for and against me but I want the management to apologise. They have to make the first step. Otherwise, no it isn’t possible. I don’t trust them (FSL), I don’t believe them,” he insisted.