Does Pakistan football need expatriate players?

by Taimur Sikander [Dawn]

Does Pakistan football need expatriate players? Will that really help in the long-run or is it just a stop-gap solution?

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) needs to address the situation fast as the future of the game in the country depends on it, but meanwhile football players, experts and followers in the country seem to have already made up their minds.

It is worth a mention here that the PFF has included Bradford Park Avenue Association Football Club’s (England) Irfan Khan and Denmark-based goalkeeper Yousuf Butt for Pakistan Youth Team’s tour to Thailand and the 2012 Olympic Asian Qualifiers.

Pakistan’s newly-appointed coach Tariq Lufti has flip-flopped on the issue of expatriate players, first claiming he can make do without them and then retracting to state that these players could help in uplifting the quality of the squad with their experience.

“I’m trying to motivate them (local players). My job is to make them realise that they have the capability and talent to do well at the international level,” Lufti said before saying, “I believe we need these expatriates not because I don’t trust the local talent but because of the experience these players bring with them.”

Pakistan striker and former captain Muhammad Essa, while supporting the inclusion of players based abroad, said in that there cannot be an over-reliance on them.

“Foreign players can support Pakistan team and they are very good. But we cannot rely on them. The problem is they have little time here to adjust or acclimatize with the local conditions of not only Pakistan but throughout Asia,” Essa said in an interview to

Local fans argue foreign-based players are all ‘hype and little game’.

“Players like Zeeshan Rehman and Adnan Ahmed may have individual skill, but I don’t think they can perform any miracles in the couple of months they join the Pakistan setup every now and then. Even the Europe-based juniors will not make a difference if they visit for a bit. Often times, there is much drumbeating when foreigners are invited but there is little substance because it takes years to form a good team combination,” Mubashir Sheerazi, a resident of Karachi and a fan of English Premier League club Newcastle United, said.

IT professional and Real Madrid fan Zayed Baloch said, “Inviting Pakistanis based abroad to the camp is a good thing. They can really assist the local boys. But that’s where the line needs to be drawn. The development of local players will most definitely be stunted if players are imported every time there is a big tournament.”

Taha Khan, a university student, said that the move is a bit harsh on local players no matter what their standard. “As it is, in our society there is a great divide and when someone from ‘outside’ comes and takes your place, there is bound to be envy. How can a team work like that?” the 22-year-old asked.

However, some fans offered a counter argument.

“It’s a good thing that a footballer is playing abroad and is part of a competitive league. It shouldn’t be held against him as long as he is passionate about representing Pakistan and is talented enough,” Manoj Shah, a Manchester United fan, said.

Opinion on online forums also seems divided, where some fans have called for the inclusion of more South American-born players while others believe the answer to the problem lies with the lack of football infrastructure in the country.

“The first thing to be done by the PFF is to improve the image of the Pakistan football team in Pakistan itself. I mean how many of the 172 million Pakistanis have ever watched their team play?” asked one fan before going on to suggest the need for a world class stadium and invitations to big international players to the country.

“Why do we look for help from the outside, why can’t we see the reality? There are diamonds out there. PFF is looking in the wrong places. We need to find heroes, combine them,” said another fan on a forum.

Perception also plays a big part in this debate. Many people in Pakistan view the foreign-based players as outsiders and seem uneasy over their inclusion, not mindful of the fact that continent-hopping is common practice in world football. And that teams with strong foundations easily manage with some of their best, young talent being poached by big clubs. Furthermore, the international calendar is limited compared to that of club football so players cannot be blamed for spending a vast majority of time with their clubs, international and local ones.

Youth development programmes. That’s where the answer to Pakistan’s problem could lie. Building international-level academies that groom young prospects to top standard will eventually create a system where the tag of ‘local’ or ‘foreign’ talent will no longer be relevant.

Taimur Sikander is a Sports Editor at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.