Under-16 footballers dreaming big

Under-16 footballers dreaming big

Pakistan U16 celebrate SAFF U16 Cup final win (AFP Photo)

The journey to stardom can be excruciating and long for some but others hope that one big break is enough to land them fame.

For three Pakistan under-16 footballers – Zainul Abidin, Munir Aftab and Sanaullah – who travelled to Abu Dhabi and attended a month-long training camp at the Manchester United Soccer School as part of the Zong United Kickoff tournament that concluded in May 2012, it’s the latter that sounds appealing.

Zain plays in Lasbela, Sanaullah in Malir and Aftab shows off his talent in the football-crazy area of Lyari, all in Karachi. However, the project of taking a group of boys to Abu Dhabi was not the only thing that brought them together. They share a common dream — international recognition for their football talent.

With the first step – and many more to come – giving them high-level training, the three have landed a contract with NBP that will fetch them Rs5,000 a month and plenty of on-field opportunities. But it’s not the money – or even education – that matters right now, as Zain put it.

“Training in Abu Dhabi with English coaches has changed my life forever,” Zain, who featured in the Pakistan U16 team that won the South Asian Championship in Nepal last year, told The Express Tribune.

“It’s like I have a new lifestyle now. The biggest challenge was to communicate with coaches there. We would need a translator all the time during training. But football has a language of its own. Although I’m completing my matriculation, this trip has made me realise that I just want to play international football.”

On the other hand, Aftab, captain of the NBP and the U16 team, started playing when he was five but feels ‘life as a footballer has just begun’.

“I had to rethink my training and schedule that I used to follow here in Pakistan,” said Aftab. “I’ve noticed that we can never be the kind of players anywhere else. They eat and live in a healthier environment compared to us. There’s a big difference among us and this training project helped us realise that.”

Aftab, however, is at least aspiring to become the country’s first player to be signed by an English club.

Sanaullah, meanwhile, has a different perspective, his approach is practical and simple.

“I have a job because I play football — that’s all I could ask for,” he said. “Going to Abu Dhabi was a bonus for me. But to be honest, this is as far as I’ll be able to go. The best thing the tour has done for me is that it got us more recognition in Pakistan.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012 by Natasha Raheel.