Graham Roberts Interview

Graham Roberts asked himself two very simple but important questions the moment he was asked to become Pakistan’s new football manager.

Did their team consist of more than two members and would he be forced to advertise in a local newspaper for players?

The answers were yes and no. The former Tottenham and England man was going to take charge of a country he didn’t know much about and, in fact, had never been to before.

There would be, of course, the language problem and cultural differences. Speaking exclusively to Sport360° as he prepares to fly out to Lahore later this month, Roberts admitted he is taking a big step into the unknown.

Roberts said: “Have I ever been to Pakistan in my life? No, I’ve never been to anywhere in that part of the world. “But so what? I like a challenge. Life isn’t supposed to be easy.

“I got a job with Clyde, a Scottish First Division team, in 2005 and that has prepared me for just about anything. “When I got there, with just a few weeks before the start of the season, they had two players. That was it. Nobody else.

“I had to put an advert in the paper in the hope of finding some players out there who could make up a team of 11 and then we’d think about a squad.

“We had a quick few trials, signed some of them and went on to do well in the league.

“And we beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup that season as well, and they had Roy Keane playing for them.

“So you’ve got to ask, is this going to be more difficult? When I was contacted about this offer, I thought it sounded different and something that might be a good experience. I did a little homework on the players and the set-up and said, ‘okay, then’.”

Roberts has agreed a two-month contract and, if he does well at the Asian Games in China next month, it might be extended if both parties can agree. But there is a bit of work to be done before they reach the city of Guangzhou where the tournament will take place between November 7-26.

Roberts said: “I have managed to speak with a few of the players over the phone, but that’s it. I haven’t met any of them yet. “I had to be told we would be playing Thailand, Maldives and Oman in China, so I’ve been cramming up on them.

“I’ll have my dossier completed on the Pakistan boys by the time I get to Lahore and then the hard work begins.

“I’m told there are some good players who maybe just need to be reigned in a little bit, that they can be a bit gung-ho and forget about defending at times.

“That’s where I’ll come in. The very best teams need organising and that’s something we will work out on the training pitch. I’ve already been made aware of their strengths and the feedback I’m getting is encouraging. So I have a lot to work with. It’s not just a case of me getting out there and seeing everything for myself.”

Roberts, 51, knows that not every Westerner would choose to work in a country which so often makes headlines for the wrong reasons. He added: “I’m being put up in a palace, I’ll have a driver and a couple of bodyguards as well. Not that it is a first for me.

“So I’ll be escorted to and from the training ground every day. Although I have to say that I haven’t given my safety or anything like that a second thought. “Football is the only thing on my mind.”

Roberts the footballer was an uncompromising type. Not a tackle was shirked in almost 20 years as a player with Tottenham, Rangers and Chelsea among others. So he will demand the same commitment from his new players.

He said: “All I ask is that they give me everything. I understand that football in Pakistan, indeed all over Asia, is the fastest growing sport, even giving cricket a run for its money in some places. “That’s great. Football is a global sport and I’m delighted to see the game taking off in countries where maybe ten years ago there weren’t even proper leagues.

“But what Pakistan need to do now is take that next step.” Does that mean win the Asian Games? Roberts said: “Why not? I’m not going out there to play a few games and not caring how we do. “Pakistan is a big, big country with a massive population. So if we can tap into that football potential then maybe we can do something with the national team.

“If we do well, then I’ll sit down with the Pakistan FA after we get back from China to discuss where we go from there.” Roberts added: “I suppose in a lot of ways this is an odd decision to make. “But it was a chance to coach at international level and take a team to a big tournament.

“I might also, in a small way, help the game of football become more popular in Pakistan. “If I managed that, I think it would be completely worthwhile.”

By Neil Cameron