Ahmed: new coach can set Pakistan on the right path

He has only been with the camp for a few days but midfielder Adnan Ahmed has been impressed with new Pakistan coach Zaviša Milosavljević in the build-up to their challenge in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship.

Ahmed, who is one of two overseas-based players to travel to India to play in the SAFF Cup, said he was happy with the way the Serbian coach conducted the training camp.

“Since I joined up with the camp, I have been very impressed with the coach’s methods,” Ahmed told FootballPakistan.com in an exclusive interview.

“Obviously he hasn’t been there long but in this short time, he has worked on shape and formation which has been lacking in recent years. Hopefully this year’s tournament will be the beginning of a better future.”

Ahmed has been an important member of the Pakistan national team since 2007 when he made his debut in the FIFA World Cup 2010 qualifiers against Iraq. Since then he has grabbed around 16 international caps, finding the back of the net four times. Ahmed is seen as a future leader of the national team and has been entrusted with the vice-captain’s role in this tournament.

Though he has been somewhat frustrated with the lack of positive progression of the national team, Ahmed is proud to pull on the Pakistan shirt and hopes the fans will continue to support the team, promising to give 100 percent every time he represents the Greenshirts.

“It has been a pleasure to represent my country. I have met some great people along the way and have been blessed to visit some great places and have so many wonderful experiences. I thank God for giving me these opportunities.”

Ahmed is hoping the team will be able to progress and flourish under Milosavljević and hopes the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) will be patient with him as he looks to change the Greenshirts’ fortunes.

Pakistan’s first game of the SAFF Championship is against an opponent they know only too well. Bangladesh were the team to end their hopes of progressing in the qualifying rounds of the FIFA World Cup 2014 in the summer, winning a rain-soaked first leg in Dhaka 3-0 before playing out a 0-0 draw in the return leg in Lahore.

The former Tranmere Rovers and Ferencvaros midfielder admits going out to their south Asian rivals was hard to take but hopes things will be different in the SAFF Championship.

“I was very upset especially with the first match. It shouldn’t have been allowed to be played. If we had fair first fame, I think we would have had an excellent chance of going through.”

Ahmed will be hoping for a successful trip in India before returning to domestic duties with non-league side Bradford Park Avenue. The 27-year-old made the right impression on his debut, scoring the winner in the 90th minute to help the Northern Premier League side beat Chester FC at the beginning of November.

Many people would have been surprised that a player of Ahmed’s calibre who has played in the pro leagues both in England as well as playing in Hungary and Iran with Aboomoslem FC would have chosen to play in non-league football.

For Ahmed, his decision is down to priorities and commitment and he hasn’t ruled out a move up the leagues in the future.

“For me, family comes first and only due to family business commitments, I can’t commit to football full-time. At the moment, it is going well because I am still working hard on my fitness and playing at a reasonably good standard so for the time being, it fits in with my lifestyle. But in the future, only god knows what may happen.”

Ahmed has enjoyed relative success in his career, earning a living from playing football and travelling to different places around the world both for the clubs he has played for and with Pakistan. But he has also suffered his fair share of bad moments including discrimination. And he was angered by FIFA President’s original comments that there was no racism on the pitch and matters could be dealt with a handshake.

“Unfortunately racism is in football and I have experienced some bad times but the best way to deal with it is to let your football do the talking and let the authorities deal with matters off the pitch. I think it was a disgrace what Sepp Blatter had said because it goes against what I just mentioned. As  players we can’t tackle the problem ourselves, we rely on the people with power to punish the culprits but if they are not leading by example, then what chance do we as players have?”

Ahmed though believes his experiences in the game, both good and bad puts him in the ideal position to help the next generation of players, especially from the Asian community, coming through the game, to share his knowledge and give support to them if they find themselves in tough positions.

“I believe the things I have experienced, the good and the bad times through my career, I can pass that knowledge on and help the next generation learn from my mistakes and hopefully progress that bit further.

“It is not easy for Asian players because our culture is different to the football culture but players need to be strong and have good support which will allow them to express themselves. I hope I can provide this support to the next generation.”