PPFL: A league with many defects

Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) claimed their third title when they emerged as the champions of the 9th Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL), which concluded here at the KPT Stadium on Tuesday.

This was the second consecutive title win for KRL under coach Tariq Lutfi. Their maiden title in 2009 was achieved under coach Sajjad Mehmood.

KRL, having mostly international stars, lost just one game in the entire league. They really deserved it. The winners were indebted to their star striker Kaleemullah who ended as the top scorer with 35 goals.

The feat has once again put KRL in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup for which the schedule and venue are yet to be announced.

Last year, KRL’s performance in the third-tier continental club championship was not satisfactory. It is time for the team management to devise a solid preparatory plan for its international commitment. Otherwise, the story may not be much different for them once again in the slots in which champions of emerging countries show their worth.

Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) also had a good season as they ended as the runners-up for the first time in the league history after beating WAPDA in their last game.

International striker Mohammad Rasool hit 26 goals for them, but he failed to grab the best player award, which was controversially given to Muslim FC’s forward Saeed Ahmed, who netted less than a dozen goals.

Both KESC and Chaman’s Muslim FC had 62 points, but the former grabbed the second spot due to a better goal average.

The performance of Muslim FC was the hallmark of the season as the brigade, carrying mostly rookies, did an excellent job by producing some big upsets.

They even defeated champions KRL 1-0 at their own backyard in Chaman.

For a club with little finances it has been a great achievement.

Army, the 2005 and 2006 champions, had to be content with the fourth position. At one stage the soldiers had a good chance of finishing second but a few defeats at Karachi pushed them to the fourth place.

The frontline’s weakness was the basic reason behind their ordinary showing. But they used young blood in the league which would give them advantage in future.

Pakistan Air Force (PAF), who ended fifth, also had mostly young recruits, a few of them having played with the national junior sides. They could have ended at a much better place had they not forfeited their last three matches they were to play in Balochistan.

National Bank once again finished at the sixth spot. The team, having a majority of former international stars, remained inconsistent once again and their management should find out the cause of the team’s ordinary performance.

Habib Bank had to face anxious moments and at one stage it looked that they would be relegated, but in the final stage their wins against ZTBL, KPT and Army put them out of the relegation zone.

Had they been relegated it would have been one of the biggest casualties for the department in its sports history.

WAPDA continued to suffer as the four-time champions saw their worst finish (11th place) of the history.

WAPDA, who won titles in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010 under coach Khalid Butt, looked spineless throughout the competitions.

Navy, who had opted Karachi as their home, ended seventh while Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) finished their voyage at the eight place.

PIA, once a prestigious side, will also have to make fresh recruitments to strengthen their bench.

Afghan FC, who had finished second in the last edition, slipped to the eighth spot this time owing to internal politics.

Baloch FC were lucky to avoid relegation after they got 12 bonus points as a result of walkovers. Karachi Port Trust (KPT), who ended at the 13th place, need to raise their standard.

ZTBL, playing their first league, were lucky to survive relegation. It’s a good sign for the team and they are expected to prepare much better for the next season. Faisalabad’s PMC Athletico FC and Wohaib FC were the two teams that got relegated. PMC always looked a mediocre side and never impressed during the league.

Lahore-based Wohaib FC, owned by former Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) secretary Hafiz Salman Butt, were relegated well before the end of the marathon. The club had made a comeback after spending four years in relegation.

Now, Faisalabad’s University FC and Chaman’s Pak Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA) will replace these relegated outfits in the top league next season.

These teams emerged as the champions of their respective phases of the PFF League (B-Division).

Walkovers badly hurt the league this season. Navy and PAF forfeited their away games in Balochistan and Wohaib FC did not play there after they got relegated.

Afghan FC not only forfeited their two away games against National Bank and Navy but also against Baloch FC, which raised many eyebrows.

The PFF will have to plan meticulously for the next season in order to eliminate the trend of giving walkovers that damaged the whole exercise.

Although being a crowd-pulling venue it looks difficult to exclude Chaman as one of the centres for the league, the authorities must ensure transparent conduct of matches there by providing foolproof security to the visiting teams.

But it looks very unlikely that the current management will take any concrete step as it has been seen ignoring bigger things in the past. In order to save money the authorities once again did not follow FIFA rules and only a single person was seen acting both as match-commissioner and referee’s assessor during the league.

Mostly, local referees supervised the matches, which damaged the crucial final phase in Karachi in which some strong teams had to go down because of poor decisions of the referees who looked unfit for the job.

As a face-saving move, neutral referees were brought in just for a few games in the end but by then the league had turned into a dead-rubber.

The PFF will have to ensure a transparent system if it wants to improve the standard of the prime league. No official of the PFF even visited Chaman, Quetta or Karachi for watching matches.

Mostly the PFF, as per their defective rules, relies on the reports of the match commissioners but they don’t know that most of the match-commissioners don’t send the authorities correct details after any eventful game due to external pressure.

The league lacks quality and it should be reordered by reducing the number of teams so that there is sufficient gap between two matches.

Induction of foreign players is the only way through which the league could be improved.

The PFF once again failed to manage sponsors for the competitions. The PFF should learn from the war-torn Afghanistan, who held a successful, sponsored and televised league watched by a huge crowd recently.

But all this needs a dedicated administration with a vision.

Sponsors used to take great interest in supporting the PFF, but they severed ties with it after they found the authorities unreliable. Pakistan usually do not click in international circuit because of the weak domestic structure.

Unless the domestic system is modified and improved spending on foreign coaches will be a futile exercise.

by Alam Zeb Safi [The News]