Stubborn Lutfi damages Pakistan’s SAFF Cup chances [FPDC]

By our correspondent [FPDC Exclusive]

Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi chose to ignore the overseas based footballers because they were unable to confirm attendance for a month long training camp for the upcoming SAFF Cup 2011 to be held in India in December.

Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi

Lutfi had only called up Adnan Ahmed, Hassan Bashir and Atif Bashir while ignoring the Denmark based Goalkeeper Yousuf Butt and the 2009 SAFF Cup duo of Shabir Khan and Amjad Iqbal who had performed outstandingly in previous event in a defence that did not concede a single goal from open play. Personal differences with Zesh Rehman meant the Muanghthong United star was also dropped and chance of any new recruits such as Nabil Aslam, Mohammad Ali and Luke Dean also went to waste due to the stubborn and unfair attitude of the staff.

What is worse is that Lutfi has dismissed the importance of these very players, the most consistent and professional and loyal men we have had in recent years, as “not having made any difference to the team”. Instead he is adamant to use, what he calls, “fresh blood” for the tournament as local U23 players that haven’t really impressed at all this year as a whole in international football without the presence of Atif and Adnan in midfield and defence.

Lutfi has failed to understand the concerns of the overseas players who are playing football on contracts rather than having the luxury of a permanent department job as local players do, while having day jobs and studies on the side.

To come for 6 weeks in total would threaten gravely a player’s first team spot back home as clubs can refuse a player’s national team call-ups for camps, matches, and tournaments not scheduled on official FIFA international match days. Also, this prolonged absence will cause a huge financial loss to the players having to leave their jobs and studies (more than half of semester) to come and train according to substandard local coaching practices.

Expatriate players’ semi-professional credentials or pro career pedigrees are often treated with utter contempt and indifference in an environment of animosity and hostility, where local coaches often always prefer players of their own departments ahead of merit.

It is no surprise that the current squad announced for the camp is dominated by Tariq Lutfi’s KRL, Nasir Ismail’s NBP, Aslam Khan’s PIA and the goalkeepers of his choice too. And to top it all off, a fair amount of Army and WAPDA players have been called up to ‘fill the numbers’, despite both sides having their worst season in PPL history with WAPDA being an utter embarrassment for a defending champion sans Arif Mehmood.

It has yet to be ascertained if such month long ‘camps’ for national team have taught anything new or unique to the players instead of running around and playing among themselves in a lethargic manner without any competitive international or even domestic friendlies.

Given the players’ club commitments at home and abroad, the camp should have started not more than 2 weeks before the tournament start. This would have ensured the domestic players are available fully match fit from Pakistan Premier League action and properly ready to combine well with other national team players without too much effort, while the expatriate players would have been allowed to join them not more than a week before the start of tournament to acclimatise and get used to the local squad – with players like Adnan and Atif knowing their comrades all too well after 3-4 years of selfless national team duties.

In the recently concluded camp for the now cancelled Pakistan vs India “Clash of the Titans” match in UK, Hassan Bashir from Denmark and the French-Pakistani Rehan Munir of Karachi United were the standout players in the camp dominated by local players.

The reporter attended various training sessions, many which were not even lead by the coach Tariq Lutfi and at one session the assistant coach Gohar Zaman participated and was the standout player, having retired from football a good 5 years, Hassan and Rehan were absent from the session too. This shows the dire state of the national team and the talent that’s being picked ahead of others who are discarded on ‘lack of commitment’ with coaches commitment going unquestioned.

While Pakistan ignores its overseas contingent, Afghanistan will be looking to utilise fully and accomodating their players on later dates who play in Germany, Cyprus, Holland and Norway and will be one of the contenders ahead of Pakistan.

This is something visionary coaches and Team Managers have tried to address such as the Philippines who have 70% of their squad from overseas continue to surge up the ranking and win matches.

After failing to progress in any of the 3 tournaments played under the current coaching staff those who know Pakistani football have already written off any chances and they might be lucky to get a ‘morale boosting’ win if they find themselves in a group with Bhutan. After all progressing to next round isn’t important but a dead rubber win or draw is.

A year that had so much promise and could have transformed the fortunes of Pakistani football for short and medium term has certainly become the disastrous under the leadership of non other than the most qualified and experienced coach of Pakistan, Tariq Lutfi and his students-cum assistants.

After a year in charge, everybody may have benefited in terms of gaining experience and exposure abroad but Pakistani football has suffered the most and is now in worst times than ever before.

A year that promised so much in many tournaments has come and almost gone with nothing but misery, embarrassment, humiliation, and frustration for eager followers of the beautiful game in Pakistan.