No foreign coach but an overhaul at PFF is the key [Dawn]

by Shazia Hasan, for Dawn.


FOLLOWING the national team’s defeats in all the three important qualifiers this year, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is now trying to save face by creating an impression that they have now started shortlisting some foreign coaches for the job. But the question is will that be really enough to salvage the current situation?

Judging by the manner in which the game’s custodians have run football affairs in the country, the only quick fix would be to sack the entire PFF top brass starting from Secretary General Col (retd) Ahmad Yar Lodhi, Director of Operations Wing Commander (retd) Pervaiz Saeed Mir, Director Youth Development and Grassroots Siddique Shaikh and Chief Coach Tariq Lutfi and his entire support staff of Nasir Ismail, Gauhar Zaman and Aslam Khan.

Pakistan has won only five of the 32 matches played since Feb 2007 when most of these people arrived on the scene. The wins, too, were against the four weakest Asian soccer nations — Chinese Taipei, Guam, Bhutan and Brunei — and it is imminent that if no steps are taken now, we will lose to these teams pretty soon as well.

However, despite the prevailing scenario, chief coach Tariq Lutfi had the audacity of saying recently that “Pakistan’s not qualifying in the World Cup preliminary doesn’t mean that football has finished here”.

Speaking to the media immediately after losing the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Lutfi said: “We lost 03 to Bangladesh under extremely bad weather conditions in the first leg, played in Dhaka, but we held the upper hand in the second leg in Lahore. In fact, the whole Bangladesh team and coach really praised the Pakistan team.” Well, of course they did! What team wouldn’t enjoy an outing with such big time losers who think a goalless draw is worthy of any praise, even when they are out of the contest.

Lutfi went on to defend his side by pointing out that, “even five-time world champions Brazil played a 0-0 draw with minnows Venezuela in the Copa America Cup. So no international game is easy nowadays.” Commenting on the PFF’s statements on hiring a foreign coach, Lutfi said: “A foreign coach is of little importance at this time. What we need is more international exposure.” Meanwhile, PFF Secretary General Col (retd) Ahmad Yar Lodhi has said that they had started short listing foreign coaches for the national team.

“Pakistani coaches can do only so much. Pakistan and Bhutan are the only two countries without a foreign coach and we are suffering due to this,” he said.

“We are to play in the Saarc event in December this year and the foreign coach should be here for the three-month long camp before that,” he added.

“The PFF president is a dynamic individual and he will generate the funds to get a foreign coach for the national team now,” he announced.

However, the football fans in the country, fed up of the consistent losses and silly excuses, are now demanding a complete overhaul of the PFF itself. They say that if the PFF president really is a man of vision, he should be able to see that we need more than just a foreign coach.

Planning has never been PFF’s forte and the game has suffered continuously from the many ill-conceived moves on the fedration’s part. Thanks to Director of Operations Wing Commander (retd) Pervaiz Saeed Mir, PFF’s Pakistan Football League which is expanded every year has now become the worst in the world. As many as 240 matches are played on home and away basis in just four months, leading to the players’ burnout and injuries. There are walkovers galore but who cares as long as they fulfill AFC and FIFA’s requirements of showing football activity here.

Director Youth Development and Grassroots Siddique Shaikh is not far behind in his ‘planning’ skills. Thanks to his management, all official matters remain in a state of constant chaos.

When the PFF invites foreign players over, like they did last year with Dutch goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, Shaikh decides to go off on leave and no one is there to inform the young player that he can’t be included in the team since Shaikh forgets to send his papers to the Pakistan Olympic Association on time. The PFF is yet to refund poor Yousuf’s air fare.

And what to say of the secretary general who is a champion at making excuses and cannot even line up a proper tour for the team to provide them with some practice ahead of important matches. Lodhi then conveniently says that the “schedules of all other playing countries are full.” The chief coach is also quite ‘useless’ for the PFF now as he has retired from his former department (PIA) whose vote was needed to win the recent PFF elections.

And amid all this there are speculations that the PFF really doesn’t want football to develop or grow here as establishing Pakistan as a strong football-playing nation may put those funds in jeopardy. Fingers were also pointed at the PFF president recently when it was said that he bought a car with the PFF funds which is currently being used by his son.

Information gathered from various sources show that there are a number of foreign coaches willing to work for free with the Pakistan team while sports marketing companies have lined up offers to sponsor a coach for Pakistan, offers that the PFF keeps rejecting for reasons best known to them.

If Faisal Saleh Hayat wants the tongues to stop wagging, he should look beyond hiring a foreign coach to fix things up and fire the entire cowboy setup at the PFF. If nothing else, he needs to do it in order to prove wrong the accusations being hurled at him. Saving face will need more than mere diplomacy now.