“Commitment” – The Pakistani excuse

by FPDC staffer M. Shahnawaz

Commitment‘ became the best used excuse by Tariq Lutfi and his staff, any player they felt needed discarding or whatever reason was said to be not committed enough and was hence shown the door.

Pakistan team officials (RtoL) Irfan Niazi (manager), Aslam Khan (gk coach), Nasir Ismail (ass. coach), Tariq Lutfi (head coach), Kamran Mehdi (physio) and Gohar Zaman (ass.coach)

This was the favourite term Lutfi and his staff used against some of the overseas players, and later the domestic players weren’t spared either. It has appeared to be the easiest of the excuses which cannot be questioned by anybody and very vague term to be defined specifically.

Very first victims of this excuse under Lutfi was the Denmark based Goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, who joined the squad for the 2012 Olympic Football Asian Qualifiers against Malaysia U21 back in Feb-March 2011. Butt, who came into the team on very high reputation, was not spared by the substandard coaching of the coaches and the especially the GK coach in PIA’s Aslam Khan.

Pakistan U21 Olympic Football Team. Yousuf Butt (30), Irfan Khan (23), Amir Gul (1), M Omer (18), Rizwan Asif (9)

Butt was recipient of some harsh treatment from the assistant coach Nasir Ismail at his very first training session, who had lined up whole team to cheer his own goalkeeper Amir Gul of National Bank (Nasir’s department team) when they had a shoot off contest, while the team stayed schtum when Butt made a save. This came from an AFC A Licence holder, who could well be the head coach in the future.

Butt went on to prove himself on the practice tour of Thailand before the Malaysia game, where he kept clean sheets many times and attracted praises from opposition coaches. Yousuf was head and shoulders above his local counterparts and this included the goalkeeping coach, this is something which was hard to take for him hence they kept finding faults in him.

As John Wooden the great basketball coach once said “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” in this case it was clear non of the coaches cared. He was maltreated by the physio and 45 mins was all he ever got for Pakistan in the GK shirt as he was held responsible for the actual faults of his defenders in letting 2 goals in the 1st half against Malaysia.

Apart from Yousuf, there was another oversea recruit, Irfan Khan, who had represented Pakistan at U19s level in 2007 having been scouted from the Rotherham trials. Irfan had been with the team since late January for the same Olympic qualifiers and had trained his socks off in order to prove his fitness under the running-obsessed coaches. Irfan was included in the final squad and was given some playing time in Thailand but not as much as he had hoped for in order to earn a starting place. Come match day and Irfan was not in the team against Malaysia, he had been suffering from food poisoning.

Upon returning from Malaysia, Irfan was called by Assistant coach Nasir Ismail to be told that he is no longer needed in the camp and should head back to UK, the reason being that he was not committed enough and the coaching staff accused him of faking the illness. Who was to prove that he was faking the illness after all the team physio doesn’t even hold any MBBS or licensed medical certification, and his gross mishandling of Yousuf’s own injury highlighted that players put their lives at risk when they turn out for Pakistan due to the team not having medical insurance and not having a doctor with the team.

Irfan till this day voices his innocence and has a strong case, while Yousuf has not openly blamed anybody despite many journalists asking for an interview.

Why should somebody from Europe/USA/Australia travel, thousands of miles on their own ticket, taking time off studies, work and being away from family, to train under substandard coaches, live in substandard conditions including sharing a room with 6others for $7 per day, only to be told you are not committed?

Do these coaches know the meaning of the word? They themselves have come into jobs on sifarish of various political bigwigs, given how Tariq Lutfi actually holds a voting right in PFF Executive Committee as PIA’s representative – despite having retired from PIA to take charge of KRL earlier this year – that took part in the 2011 Football Elections held across the country.

Strange how it is only Pakistan that someone who holds status as an FA congress member with decision making powers can also be the head coach of the national team!

Irfan and Yousuf returned home with disruption caused to their university, football club and work without gaining much, yet some sections continue to have a field day against the overseas players. It must be noticed that majority of the overseas players who play part time football while working or studying, make financial losses while attending camps and representing the country compared to their counterparts who have permanent jobs at various government departments and pick up fixed salary. (Another article that was not published argued if the overseas players were stealing the living of domestic players? can be seen here.)

This treatment didn’t end there as Kashif Siddiqi was the next victim of Lutfi and the cowboys, Siddiqi who had turned up earlier than all the other overseas players and even before Lutfi organised formal camp after the friendly matches against Palestine. Kashif gave his best in training and made it to the final squad but after arriving in Malaysia he too suffered same fate as Irfan Khan and was unwell, he had informed the Physio a the night before, he took his medication and was still unwell for the first game.

This was different situation than Irfan as team was to play 3 matches in Malaysia and Kashif could have been used in the remaining 2 matches, but he was too labelled with ‘lack of commitment’ and discarded. It must be understood that these players come from Europe therefore their bodies adapt to conditions in Pakistan and then in Malaysia or any other country and every player is different, while Adnan Ahmed or Atif Bashir are fine there can be no guarantee on Kashir or any other.

In case of Kashif, he had been training in Dubai prior to travelling to Pakistan and was one of the fittest players in the camp. Until the players are treated with respect and care by the coaches and the Federation, there can be no progression, cohesion and unity that is required to win matches and become a unit.

Aside from overseas players, striker Muhammad Rizwan Asif from KRL became the latest victim of this attitude cum excuse. He had been one of the outstanding players for Pakistan in the last 9 months when it had been hard to find any positives. His work ethic, attitude and commitment had been appreciated by all. In Asian Games he played through pain and same was seen in the 2nd leg of Olympic Qualifiers when he played through injury and was the best player on the pitch. But when time came for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh back in June 2011, Rizwan Asif was omitted from the final squad.

Lutfi has given various and inconsistent reasons for the omission of Rizwan, who ironically is a vital member of Lutfi’s KRL team. First it was that Rizwan had been out of form and low in confidence which the coaches tried to address through counselling but wasn’t fruitful. Anybody knowing the game would tell you, counselling wouldn’t work urgently and the player should have been given more time to get his confidence back if this was the case in reality.

However Lutfi then said Rizwan lacked in commitment and was dropped, he cannot even stick to one reason for dropping the player. Why did Lutfi have to cut his squad down to 20 when a total of 23 are allowed in the final squad?

If you thought Rizwan was alone, then you thought wrong. Goalkeepers Muhammad Omer and Amir Gul were omitted from the World Cup qualification camp citing injuries but in reality they were just dropped because Jaffar Khan had recovered from a finger injury and his seniority was supposed to be positive for team.

The strange part was that back in December 2009, at the end of the frustrating SAFF Championship in Bangladesh, Jaffar had publicly stated his decision to retire from international football after falling out with Pakistan’s Austrian coach George Kottan – who himself left the team just weeks later after PFF refused to extend his tenure. Yet despite the retirement, Jaffar has still gotten regular call-ups over the course of last 2 years now.

Muhammad Omer who had done remarkably well against Malaysia and Palestine, despite still being being very raw and rash in his abilities, was rewarded with a place in senior side for AFC Challenge Cup only to be dropped again. Jaffar seems to have powerful lobby that also backed his inclusion as it was seen in the 2010 Asian Games when Yousuf Butt’s registration was jeopardised alongside Adnan Ahmed to take Jaffar under one of the 3 overage players that were allowed. Amir Gul on the other hand dropped down the pecking order due to Omer’s heroics and was also dropped completely from the WCQ squad and replaced by Jahangir Khan, brother of former captain and influential figure Muhammad Essa.

It is well known in the football circles that injuries and commitment are two words labelled to drop players. After the 3-0 disastrous defeat at Dhaka Omer was surprisingly called back into the squad, there was no one to ask how had that happened? if Omer was injured, how did he recover that quickly and be match fit. The reason for the inclusion is less to do with football or recovery but more to do with the deep rooted selection process based on nepotism and favouritism. Omer deserves his place in the squad no doubt but at this occasion he was called because now he didn’t play for KESC but for NBP the team coached by Nasir Ismail, Pakistan’s Assistant coach. The Federation’s senior officials cannot be answerable to anybody because hardly any of them have football background.

Assistant coach Nasir Ismail told the writer “Omer is ten times better than Yousuf Butt, so we won’t be needing Yousuf” but then had the hypocrisy of dropping him for WCQs, only to be recalled again. Who was to question whether Omer had fully recovered and was even match fit if being called to replace an ageing Jaffar Khan in middle of the match? Seems like having joined NBP was enough for a recall.

This selection policy of picking their own doesn’t end with Nasir Ismail, Tariq Lutfi when taking charge in January brought in Bilal Rafiq of PIA, the department he had only recently retired from, into an U21 team only to be told by the media about Bilal’s real age. However Bilal has since been ignored for the senior team because Tariq Lutfi has moved on from PIA to KRL and there were 13 KRL players in the 40 players on the probable list for the World Cup Qualifiers and the earlier camp for Palestine tour. Another player, Muhammad Haji who had been named Captain for the U21 team only to be sidelined with injury continued to be sidelined because he too belonged to Lutfi’s old team PIA.

The politicisation of selection policies go beyond their own departments and players from other departments or clubs are usually sidelined because they belong to a different coach or a particular influential group. A recent example of this was when Haider Ali who had down very well in the Asian Games and earned praise from Graham Roberts was dropped because he previously belonged to PEL, a team managed by Asghar Khan Anjum who was also the previous team manager under Akhtar Mohiuddin. It must be highlighted that it was not necessary to drop players like Haider Ali and other youngsters who had done well in Asian Games, picking up a point against Maldives for the first time in the last 3 events – although Samar Ishaq’s horrendous penalty late in that very game costed Pakistan the chance of an actual win!

It is quite clear apart from the youngsters, Lutfi and co are also happy to continue the trend of sidelining competent seniors like Naveed Akram and Mahmood Ali of WAPDA who recently became the only 2 players to play abroad when they joined Saraswoti YC of Nepal on a 2 month loan deal.

Naveed was one of the players who developed and thrived under Salman Sharida and arguably scored some of the most beautiful goals for Pakistan whereas Mahmood Ali is one of the better technical and tactical gifted players who was given the opportunity under George Kottan after previous coaches repeatedly ignored him. Both have won league titles with WAPDA and have represented the side in AFC Presidents Cup. It is mind boggling when Lutfi hs failed to play good football as his players in the midfield have lacked quality and creativity that he continues to ignore the likes of Mahmood.

Maybe Mr Lutfi should check how committed he is and his own coaches are, with notorious characters like Nasir Ismail, Gohar Zaman (who was previously removed on allegations of sexual harassment while on duty with NT in Taiwan many years ago) an outdated GK coach and an inept Physio.

Lutfi himself has been in the game for 30 years and yet he doesn’t know where to draw line on issues where there are conflicts of interest, such as managing a department side while in charge of National Team and his assistants like Nasir Ismail too coaching department, it was clear when NBP’s Faisal Iqbal was made Vice Captain with just 7/8 caps to his name.

However role of a captain and vice captain is very limited in football but such decisions lead to tension and division within the team and this was certainly the case this time. The result Pakistan failed to progress in the 3 competitions the entered for under Lutfi, winnable under any foreign coach just shows you its not the footballers that have problems but the coaches and the Federation officials that continue to appoint these coaches because of various reasons best known to them.