No shortcuts to glory

Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) seems to be making some desperate efforts to raise the national team’s performance. However, the decision to invite seven foreign-based players for the tour of Singapore recently is testimony to the fact that the authorities are looking for shortcuts.

Their move, unfortunately, failed to deliver as Pakistan were thrashed by Singapore 4-0 in their FIFA friendly game at the Jurong West Stadium in Singapore last Monday. Before that game, Pakistan were also defeated by Singapore’s Olympic side 1-0 in their warm-up game.

Pakistan had also completely failed at major events last year, including World Cup Qualifiers, Olympic Qualifiers and SAFF Championship.

This year, too, Pakistan Under-22 side failed to click in the Asian Cup Qualifiers in Saudi Arabia in spite of the fact that the authorities provided ample exposure to the team as they were sent to Thailand, Palestine and Bahrain before the vital assignment in Riyadh.  But the tour of Singapore might have shown to the authorities the real picture of the country’s football, which needs both technical and financial support.

Pakistan senior team played an international game almost after one year as before the recent tour of Singapore the team had played at the SAFF Championship in December 2011 in New Delhi.

With such limited exposure the authorities should not expect any better results from players who are a product of a poor domestic system. A defeat was not unanticipated at all but the 4-0 margin is something that must alarm the authorities. According to team sources, Singapore’s was a good squad as they had the assistance of four players of Serbia who have been given Singapore’s nationality.

The inclusion of half-a-dozen foreign-based players, who were supported by the PFF, also failed to bring any relief for the struggling side.Pakistan’s Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic found some positives from the tour and said after the match that the frontline proved very good and so was the goalkeeping department.

According to team sources, Pakistan’s backline was so helpless that Singapore could have scored eight to nine goals had goalkeepers Jaffar Khan and Yousuf Butt not given top performance.

Danish goalie Yousuf Butt, who was not impressive last year in the Olympic Qualifiers against Malaysia, did a good job against Singapore. His performance was also hailed by goalkeeping coach Aslam Khan.

Denmark-based striker Mohammad Ali looked dangerous with fine dribbling quality and fast movements and so was another Denmark-based striker Hasan Bashir, who had also impressed Pakistan’s former coach Tariq Lutfi with his caliber during the camp ahead of the bilateral series against India, which was ultimately cancelled last year.

Both Ali and Hasan made their international debuts and so was Yousuf Butt, who before that game had played in the Olympic side.

According to team sources, Norway’s defender Omar Malik did not impress the management and Zavisa has advised him to play for the Pakistan junior team in future as he still needs a lot of hard work to find a place in the national team.

Why are the results not improving? It’s a question which needs proper attention.

Zavisa, who has worked as Pakistan coach for a year, should know the ground reality of Pakistan football. He held camp for just a couple of days ahead of the Singapore tour, which was a great mistake from him. Unlike Europe and other advanced football-playing nations, Pakistani players need at least 15 to 20 days’ camp ahead of any international assignment.

It is because of the weak domestic structure of Pakistan football that players’ basics are weak and they need a lot of attention from the coach to prepare them for any international match.

For example, striker Kaleemullah has so far scored six hat-tricks in the Pakistan Premier League for KRL but when it comes to international football he has always been a disappointment.

It is not that he is a bad player but he needs the type of support and coordination which he normally gets while playing for his home side KRL. About the foreign-based players the authorities will have to take extra care in future and invite only those players who are capable to deliver for the country.

Defender Zeeshan Rehman, who plays for Hong Kong’s Kitchee FC, looked completely off-colour against Singapore and had to be replaced by the coach after he made wrong movements, disturbing the whole backline.

He seems to be a spent force and so does England-based Adnan Ahmed who also failed to impress mainly because of his old age. If Pakistan’s star play-maker Essa does not have a place in the side despite good performance at domestic level, why are Zesh and Adnan part of the team?

The left-back Shabbir Khan, who plays for Worcester City FC in England, looked impressive in Singapore, according to team sources. But he was wrongly placed as a left-wing midfielder which was not a suitable spot for him.

Shabbir played for Pakistan after three years. He had played for the country of his origin in the 2009 Dhaka SAFF Championship, but was afterwards dogged by a ligament injury which forced him to stay away for a long time.

The inclusion of foreign-based boys is good for Pakistan but these players will have to give sacrifice for the national cause by making themselves available for almost every assignment. Their joining of preparatory camps should be made compulsory, without which a solid coordination will be impossible.

Now it’s the turn of Pakistan Under-23 team which is expected to leave for Sri Lanka at the end of this month to feature in an international tournament there. In the end, I must suggest that the PFF hire a technical director who could give the authorities a proper roadmap for the country’s prime league which badly needs improvement.

by Alam Zeb Safi [The News]