By Muhammad Wasim,
Pakistan under-16 team’s triumph in the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship serves as an eye-opener to our sports policy-makers that the country has an abundance of talent that is waiting to blossom.
Hats off to the young players from a nation where football patronage is missing, infrastructure is miserable and the so-called youth development programmes are just a mockery of the sport.
The win prompted a Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) official to claim it a result of the federation’s youth programmes which was far from the truth. These programmes are being run on paper and not on the field. Without a network of academies, talent-hunt centres and a league for junior players, it sounds funny that they operate any youth development programmes.
The performance confirms that at youth level, the players have the will and zeal to compete but problems arrive when their transition process stops.
Remuneration: Footballers are highly paid athletes but in Pakistan the pay is a meagre amount so the players are led to believe that donning the national colours is the ultimate aim for youngsters.
A number of young footballers do not continue their career in football and those who do so, lack motivation. If Pakistan improves the quality of its domestic league even slightly – by bringing in sponsors and increasing its duration – there are chances that a player could make good money and keep himself fit and focused throughout the year.
Opportunities: Top nations provide their players innumerable opportunities when they reach the end of their careers. Apart from a spot in the coaching panel, the players can serve as scouts, instructors, trainers, and youth-developers in clubs and academies. In Pakistan, unfortunately, these kind of roles do not exist and thus footballers, from their 20s, start looking elsewhere for a livelihood.
Infrastructure: When improving football infrastructure, the main thing is to improve playing conditions, having green fields, creating academies and giving the players accessibility to all medical aid in order to maintain optimum fitness levels. If the PFF takes a stand and makes it compulsory for all departments or clubs to build academies, possibly residential, where the schooling needs are also taken care of besides imparting football coaching, a lot of interested youngsters will enrol.
Player development: This area includes provision of training facilities, qualified instructors and proper nutrition for players so that they can maximise the length of their careers. At district level, fitness programs with strict training regime of each age-level should be initiated on a regular basis to refine the talent. Similarly a good number of tournaments must be organised to groom them before exposing them at international level.
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