Coach upbeat to bring improvement: Lutfi given charge of football team

By Shazia Hasan

KARACHI, Jan 15: Giving up on foreign coaching expertise due to shortage of funds, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) took the best decision they possibly could under the circumstances to hand over the national squad to experienced senior coach Tariq Lutfi.

Following a marathon meeting with PFF President Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat on Saturday, it was decided with the consent of the entire PFF congress that 59-year-old Lutfi will be coach for all the national team`s upcoming assignments in 2011, starting with the qualifiers that in its first leg will see Pakistan facing Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 23 with the return leg in Lahore on March 9.

“This is a very positive and bold decision taken by the PFF,” said PFF Director Marketing and Event Management Sardar Naveed Haider Khan while speaking to Dawn on Saturday.

The federation`s marketing head was one of the main persons responsible for involving a European sponsor to bring 51-year-old English coach Graham Roberts to Pakistan for a two-month trial basis in October. Asked what happened to their plans of hiring him, Sardar Naveed said: “We will call him when we have the money to do so.”

The PFF had, earlier, made a request to the federal government for a grant of Rs100 million for assistance in that matter but are still waiting to get a response from there. Meanwhile, the federation is reluctant to disclose the package being offered to Lutfi.

“We will be following the normal system of payment including daily allowance and accommodation, etc.,” said PFF Secretary Col Ahmad Yar Khan Lodhi.

Lutfi, himself a former footballer, brings with him a stack of credentials. He was the first-ever FIFA coaching instructor from South Asia. Having coaching qualifications through Bisham Abbey, Zbigiew Szumuski, Tomi Salave Ivic, B. Trautman, Holger Osiek, Burkhard Ziese, Terry Cassie Dittmer Cramer, he has the honour of attending several FIFA and Olympic courses.

Currently also managing and coaching the PIA team, Lutfi has guided his department to victory for a record nine times in the Pakistan Premier League. Pakistan under his coaching have won gold in the 1989, 1991 and 2004 editions of the South Asian Games. It was only last month when he accepted the coaching responsibility for the Pakistan women`s football team that featured in the inaugural SAFF Women Championship in Bangladesh where the girls reached the semi-finals stage.

Speaking to Dawn about Pakistan`s chances in the upcoming qualifiers against Malaysia soon after being named national coach, Lutfi said that he believed in producing a good show without having to worry about winning or losing.

“Malaysia are the ASEAN champions. They are playing very well. But we shouldn`t be worried about winning or losing as far as our direction is correct. What I aim to do first is to teach the boys to use the whole 90-yard ground to play football,” the coach remarked.

Asked if he also followed the same strategy being applied by several other local coaches where they accept defeat even before going into the match and concentrate more on not losing by a big margin, he said: “Of course not! You never commit to defeat until it happens. A loser`s mindset can`t help [a team] to win. Each game is to be played with a positive mindset.”

On inquiring if the PFF would give him a freehand in matters relating to selection, etc., Lutfi said that they did. “I have been assured by the federation president of being provided anything I may need. I will also get the technical support team of my choice, which I will announce shortly.”

There are reports of including a few foreign players to the 46 probables reporting to the PFF camp for the 2012 London Olympics qualifiers, which started in Lahore on Saturday. The five players, namely, midfielders Atif, Waleed Nadeem (Scotland) and Irfan (England), goalkeepers Yousuf Butt (Holland) and Naiman (Spain) are also expected to report at the camp by Jan 20.

Asked if he preferred the foreign players to local ones, Luft stated: “I will see if they are any good. If they really are better than our players here and not just regular university players, we will include them in the team for sure. Then it is my duty to ensure unity among the lot, something I am really good at and something that no foreign coach will ever be able to achieve.”