Not because they can’t but because they won’t [FPDC-Dawn exclusive]

By our staff in collaboration with Dawn.Com

As the saying goes “when there is a will, there is a way”. In Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) case it seems there is a way but there is no will. PFF has an annual budget close to a $1 million (combination of FIFA and AFC grants, budget from federal government and PFF’s own coffers). Yet it has repeatedly cited a lack of funds as the primary reason for not hiring a foreign coach which Pakistan obviously needs. The estimated cost of hiring a decent foreign coach comes out to around $80,000 annually.

Ever since the departure of Salman Sharida in 2006 and the appointment of the new management at PFF, there has been a great deal of reluctance in appointing a foreign coach on a long term basis. There has also been a lack of intent in finding ways to sponsor a coach with solid credentials. It must be noted here that in the last eight years (two terms) of the current PFF President Faisal Saleh Hayat, Pakistan has just won two U-23 SAG Games titles.

Both of those titles came with the services of foreign coaches, China’s Wang Xiao He in 2004 and the Bahrain’s Salman Sharida in 2006, both given to Pakistan free of cost by their respective authorities.

Since Sharida, Pakistan has gone into free fall with a humiliating five wins in 33 competitive senior and U21/U23 events. Akhtar Mohiuddin and Tariq Lutfi were in charge during this period with Austria’s George Kottan sandwiched in the middle. The five wins have been well documented even as they came against four of Asia’s weakest teams, Bhutan, Brunei, Guam and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). The PFF and its president have patted themselves on the back quite a bit for it. Sharida left Pakistan in the 150s of FIFA Ranking and today it’s nearing the 170 mark. Those who might think this is an improvement, the best team are ranked 1 and not 206.

For the last four years PFF has used the ‘lack of finances’ excuse but in reality there has never been a will to hire a coach on a long-term basis and put a system in place that will change the face of the game in the country. To put it simply, PFF has lacked leadership. Hayat lost his way in the second term as his focus shifted to being a member of various AFC and FIFA committees while he filled the federation with ex-servicemen and political figures. At one point, the federation had no individual with a background in football in its hierarchy.

On top of all of this, the PFF has failed to avail the opportunity of raking in a free coach sponsored by a European football association as was reported in the media.

Furthermore, the federation failed to raise funds itself through marketing apart from getting any raise from the Sports Ministry. It is important to remember here that the federal government cannot be blamed here simply because the PFF president was a member of the cabinet for five years during his first term as he is now! If the cabinet member who happens to be the president of PFF cannot manage to get funding then football has no hope. It is also important to highlight that until this day, eight years in and into his 3rd term (which has since been challenged in court over controversial elections) the PFF president has not yet constructed a single training facility or a stadium for the national team. It is happy to pay a cost and train the squad at training facilities owned by friends and allies.

If PFF could get Salman Sharida in 2005 then what could be the issue now? Keywords: Vested interests. Akhtar Mohiuddin was appointed in 2007 due to heavy political support from the Balochistan FA (coinciding with football elections of 2007 that helped the Hayat secure a 2nd term). It must also be noted here that under Mohiuddin selection policies became politicized. The team suffered defeat after defeat and he was humiliatingly sacked after the shocking campaign of the 2008 SAFF Cup. By then it was too late, he had cost Pakistan three tournaments and sent football back many years.

In 2009, PFF appointed 62-year-old George Kottan from Austria. With his appointment many thought things would change. He was a puzzling choice considering that there were other, better options available. It was learnt from the sources that he had been recommended by some FIFA officials close to PFF for the job. Things of this sort are not new, with former coaches John Layton and Dave Burns from England coming via the same route. Even the current PFF Secretary General recently stated in the media that he would again request FIFA and AFC for coaching assistance.

For those wondering why the need for FIFA or AFC assistance when the PFF can do its own recruiting, the answer is simple. The people running football in Pakistan haven’t got a clue about the game and thus make incompetent scouts.

If appointing George Kottan was a little surprising, then offering him a year’s contract displayed how short-sighted the PFF was. He came in a few weeks before a major qualification tournament and had no input in selection. No prizes for guessing that Pakistan failed to deliver.

He worked hard within his limitations looking over a mediocre league, dealing with indifferent officials, and putting up with no infrastructure. He was vocal about all of this during his tenure but received no positive response from the federation. He was unlucky to miss out on SAFF Cup in 2009 when he had arguably the best side Pakistan has had in recent history. It could not deliver, however. He was well aware of his impending axe but had one last assignment in the 2010 SAFF Games. Pakistan lost all three of its group matches there and Kottan was history.

The year 2010 was a barren year for Pakistan with senior team playing no competitive matches. The U23 team played at the 2010 Asian Games in China, that too after a few months of wrangling between the PFF and Pakistan Olympic Association (POA). Eventually, PFF managed to get a late entry into the tournament after agreeing it would pay the team’s expenses from its own pockets (without any revelation of where that money actually came from!).

The Asian Games trip also gave Pakistani football its biggest PR opportunity to date.

This was all down to one man, Graham Roberts, former England and Tottenham Hotspur star. He was denied control of the team, previously promised by the PFF, and was forced to play second fiddle to a reluctant and reserved Akhtar Mohiuddin (who was once again brought back by PFF due to his ‘experience’). Roberts, whose six-week stint was funded by sponsors, was then told that the PFF did not have enough funds to fulfil the financial side of his contract.

Pakistan, of course, went on to exit from the Asian Games with a single point from three games. Results could have been different had Roberts been given charge of squad selection and tactics.

Mohiuddin was also sacked after the Asian Games and sources say it was less to do with performance of the team but more to do with selection of certain players. He was reportedly sacked for not picking a specific player from Balochistan over disciplinary issues, which quickly turned members of the Balochistan FA against him and pressed PFF to remove him. Ironically, it was the same lobby that had got Mohiudding the job in the first place back in 2007.

Having turned down Roberts on a long term deal, PFF took a step backwards and appointed old hawk, Tariq Lutfi, citing him as the “best option under the circumstances” in January 2011. Roberts eventually decided to take up an offer to coach Nepal soon afterwards. Nobody knew what circumstances PFF had alluded to, and nobody in the press cared to ask.

PFF ignored many overseas coaches, even those who had offered their services free of cost on a probation basis in order to prove their ability. Coaches like Tom Saintfiet of Belgium offered to help at various stages in the last 9 months and as recent as the World Cup qualifiers which Pakistan lost to Bangladesh. Coaches like him were better qualified than department-centric, Pakistani coaches.

It is now clear how and why Lutfi got the job and the “circumstances” PFF had referred to were not financial. There was more politics involved and it clearly didn’t have the best interests of the game or of the nation at heart.

Lutfi was a PIA employee, a department that holds a vote in the PFF Congress of which Lutfi is a representative. He was the best under the ‘circumstances’ and the PFF elections which Hayat won unopposed may have been the reason. The unopposed election meant Lutfi’s vote wasn’t even needed.

Pakistan managed to win one match out of seven competitive outings under Lutfi. Graham Roberts, in charge of Nepal, has only lost one game for the country out of five outings this year.

While Mohiuddin and Kottan were removed from their jobs after failing in three consecutive tournaments, Lutfi is likely to be rewarded with a trip to the UK for the proposed series against India.

You may wonder why? One possible reason for this is, he still holds the vote in PFF congress and the current election outcome has been challenged in court, therefore his services could be required once again, off the pitch.

Apart from the failure under George Kottan, Pakistan’s only hope it seems, is a foreign coach as history has proven that the mentality and system the local coaches are tied to will never allow them to succeed.

So if the federation cannot raise funds to arrange a coach then shouldn’t their marketing team be sacked?

If the PFF is serious it can discard non-technical officials and easily appoint a foreign coach with those savings. If all that is possible and isn’t being done then there is only one conclusion to it. They don’t want a foreign coach and that’s not because they can’t afford it.