Roberts relishing Pakistan task

By Imran Azam [BBC Sport]

One would expect the Pakistan football manager’s job not to appeal to an individual whose best friends are Indian and who doesn’t like curry.

The Pakistan Football Federation appointed Graham Roberts as the national team boss on an eight-week contract in October, but his deal expected to be extended to a one year deal before the end of 2010.

The 51-year-old acted as a coaching consultant for the Green Shirts during the Asian Games and impressed officials with his vision for the sport in the country.

The former Tottenham, Chelsea and Rangers defender claims his main priority is to instill a winning mentality into the players and coaching staff.

“We are a long, long way from qualifying for the World Cup,” said Roberts. “But I want to make Pakistan a regional force.”

“I want teams coming to Pakistan to know they are going to be in for a tough match.

“There has been a mindset for far too long that basically translates along the lines of ‘as long as we don’t by lose 6 or 7’.

“A two-nil defeat is seen as a victory, but I want the players going onto the pitch with a winning attitude.

“They are not playing to make up the numbers or keep the score down to one or two.”

Two high profile British Pakistanis who have opted to represent the land of their parents include Bradford’s Zesh Rehman and former Huddersfield midfielder Adnan Ahmed.

Another option could be West Bromwich Albion centre-forward Adil Nabi who has played for both England under-16s and 17s team.

“There’s some fantastic young talent in Pakistan,” said Roberts.

“But in preparation for some of the games they are spending 32 hours on a train getting from one city to another – we have to be more professional than that.

“Players have to be in the team on merit not due to their family connections.

“The final decision on who plays must be down to the manager not the PFF president or a politician.

“I want the home grown players to mix in with those Pakistanis who are playing in Europe.

“Hopefully next summer we can bring the team to the UK and play games in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.”

Football was introduced on the Indian subcontinent in the mid 19th century as a morale-raising exercise for British soldiers during the British Raj.

However, in terms of popularity it lags behind cricket in both Pakistan and India along with Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Fifa currently ranks Pakistan at number 167 in the world, and the team’s upcoming matches relate to World Cup and Olympic qualifiers along with the South Asian Games.

The former Clyde manager also states he has no issues living in a country still reeling from floods along with the constant threat of terrorism.

“I can only go on my experience and in the two months I was over there I never felt for my safety,” said Roberts.

“I spent time in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and the people were so friendly and made me feel very welcome.

“Away from football there are some breathtaking sights and the quality of the international food is very high.

“I don’t like curry so I frequented many Italian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants.”

As a player, Roberts tasted both the north London derby and the politically-charged Old Firm games between Celtic and Rangers.

He genuinely believes a Pakistan-India showdown would be a career highlight.

Roberts added: “Pakistan will no doubt come up against India in the South Asian games.

“The banter has already started with my best friends, who are Indian.

“I am looking forward to the challenge. I had offers for jobs in England but the Pakistan job excited me.”