Debutants ZTBL have survival on their minds

KARACHI: When Syed Ghazi Khan quit KRL to take up the captain’s arm-band at ZTBL, his former teammates termed that suicide for his football career because he had left a far superior club and joined one making its debut in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL).

ZTBL had managed to sneak into the top tier after topping the Pakistan Football Federation League last season. Despite their lack of experience and fire-power, the team sits 11th on the table, vindicating Ghazi’s leap of faith. They have also managed to hold teams like Army, Muslim FC as well as Ghazi’s former club KRL.

“Leaving a successful club like KRL was not an easy decision for me at all,” Ghazi told The Express Tribune. “People told me it was a bad move to quit a strong team like KRL but I chose to because the new team means potential for growth. After being promoted to PPFL, our target this season is just to survive and not be relegated. A new team that manages that is then able to make its mark.”

Ghazi does not regret his decision to move, acknowledging that KRL had very experienced players and better facilities, but the sharp rise in the learning curve with a new team and an important role to play, he was unable to refuse the offer.

“If we manage to survive the drop, I can safely say that we’ll be one of the top teams next season. I didn’t come here for money (Ghazi is getting Rs 35,000 per month on a permanent contract as opposed to Rs 20,000 at KRL). I came here to play football. KRL is comfortable with their pattern and style and there aren’t many opportunities to grow anymore.”

We need time, says coach

For their coach Najeebullah Najmi, who has been part of the setup for only two years, the results have been better than what he had thought. With only four professional players in the squad – Ghazi, Muhammad Luqman, Muhammad Naveed and Muhammad Hanif – there was no way they could have aimed for a top-five finish, according to the coach.

“The whole team is inexperienced apart from these four,” said Najmi. “We held trials and picked our team from there. The bigger players don’t want to join us right now but the market will be different next season.

“We have nine matches to play so the fight for survival continues. We are very serious about establishing the team at the moment so we’ll even go to Chaman and Noushki and play there despite many teams refusing to tour because of security concerns.

“Personally, I preferred ZTBL because it’s about playing the sport for the love of it and not because you have a reputation to defend. All the players here are doing the same and that is why ZTBL will make its name in football just like it has done so in cricket. The team is definitely on its way up”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2012.