Can Roberts be Pakistan football’s messiah? [GEO Super]

Monday, October 18, 2010

by Umaid Wasim [GEO Super]

Finally Graham Roberts has arrived! Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) secured a major coup when the former England international was signed on a two-month stint as a coaching consultant for the upcoming Asian Games and beyond. His job for now, is to assist Pakistan coach Akhtar Mohiuddin in the football event of the Guangzhou spectacle from November 7-26. The big question now is how could the Englishman help the Pakistan football team?

During his playing days, Roberts was a tough-tackling, no-nonsense defender for both Tottenham Hotspur, Rangers and Chelsea. He won two FA Cups for Spurs and also helped the North London club to UEFA Cup success in 1984.

However, his managerial career isn’t that glorious. In his last job as a manager for Scottish side Clyde, Robert’s was sacked in acrimonious circumstances for passing racist remarks. A tribunal, though, later found that the allegations against him were exaggerated and awarded him £32,000 compensation for unfair dismissal. He has been out of work since then until the Pakistan job arrived.

Nevertheless, the acquisition of Roberts as a coaching consultant would surely boost football in the country. Not only is it a great help to improve the image of the country, his experience would also help improve the standard of the national team.

For a country whose sport has been marred by terrorism, Roberts’ arrival is a message to the global sporting community that sports afterall are still thriving in the country and when a foreigner can work here, the foreign teams too can come and participate in sporting events in the country.

On a sporting aspect though, Roberts’ services would be of a greater benefit. If Roberts could translate into his players the image of what he was in his playing days, then certainly Pakistan’s weak defensive line could become really strong. For that, though, Roberts would have to overcome a language barrier that was a major problem for another foreigner George Kottan.

While Kottan did a lot technically for the team, he could not produce results on the pitch and that is what matters the most. What is done on the training ground should and must come out on the field of play.

Pakistan have a very weak defensive line and once under pressure, it is at sixes and sevens as players lose both their heads and positional sense. Roberts needs to instill that grit and mentality that was a trademark of his play during the 1980’s.

Not only that, but it is the tactics where the team needs to improve and that his another thing at which Roberts could help out Akhtar Mohiuddin. In modern-day football, matches are won on paper rather than the field of play itself. The greatest example in recent times was that of Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. En route to Champions League glory, Inter won most of their matches on the drawing boards with players being briefed about their individual roles in great detail.

That is exactly what Pakistan footballers need. There is a great need to make them realise that it is as a team that wins you matches rather than individual brilliance. Inter’s run to the Champions League title had little flashes of individual brilliance and instead it was based on great teamwork and a winning mentality. A great example of that was how Samuel Eto’o played on the wing instead of his customary position as a striker. Can’t we tell one of our strikers to do that for the team? If not that, then he should atleast try to track back and defend when the team loses posession; just like Diego Milito did for Inter so fabulously last year.

Or on a greater note, can’t we do the proverbial ‘parking the bus’ trick when we face stronger teams like Thailand and Oman in our Asian Games pool? Inter did that ever so wonderfully against Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League.

All these things would be upto Roberts to instill into the minds of the players when the face Asian heavyweights in Guangzhou. Pakistan currently are 162nd in the FIFA rankings. With his experience, Roberts can help Pakistan football to grow in its stature, eventually helping Pakistan go higher in the rankings and become one of Asia’s footballing powerhouses!