Afghan FC, in decline but hopeful

KARACHI: Personal differences, and not just poor show on the field, have cost Afghan FC dearly this season.

They finished third in the Pakistan Premier League (PPFL) last season. Today, they languish in eighth, not being able to recover from the loss of 11 players to other clubs. Team coach Abdul Aziz helped the team to third last season but he is the first to acknowledge that dispute over money and internal club matters forced the group away. Now, after the void left by the seniors, national under-23 captain Jadeed Khan remains the club’s ‘only asset’.

The club only bounced back into the league after five consecutive defeats as they managed to win against PIA, KPT and ZTBL in their home matches.

Losing five matches on the trot was not an ideal start for Afghan FC but the team is doing well to move on, according to the coach.

“It’s been an embarrassing season but we can only move forward by putting on our best show,” Aziz told The Express Tribune. “It’s been hard going after the 11 players left. We lost friends before losing players and we paid for it by losing nine matches this season.”

The team has a strict policy of selecting players from Chaman only and although these players are not contracted, it is the understanding between players and management that forms the agreement.

“We don’t earn from football apart from ticket sales at home. Our players only end up getting Rs 5,000 maximum so it’s conscientiousness and not greed that drives our players.”

Jadeed, too, labels his loyalty to the club he has been part of since 2005 as the reason behind him not parting ways.

“I owe it to the club and leaving is not an option,” said Jadeed. “Right now I know I am holding it together for the team. I stayed because the team will collapse if there is no one to guide the younger players.”

Transition takes time, said Aziz, and although the performance has not really come this season, the coach is confident that the eight new players – seven of these Aziz picked from watching local matches – will only improve next season.

“Our target this season is to survive and stay in the PPFL – we’re not thinking about medals this season,” said team manager Mohammad Ali. “Right now, we’re short of quality players and at times even I have to play as a defender. I’m 40 and I won’t be here next season so the goal is to prepare a better team, find a system that can give incentives to the players. So far, nothing is confirmed as it’s not easy to get money and make a mark when it comes to an area like Chaman.”

There is no lack of talent but experience, and motivation, is what the team needs. Samad, a watchman at a government school in Chaman, reckons things will not change until the club gets some sort of sponsorship. Similarly, 17-year-old Himmat Khan, the highest scorer for the team in his maiden season, his only motivation is that this might take him into the national squad, away from his day job at a utility store.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2012.