Can Yaqoob replace Atif?

Can Yaqoob replace Atif?

By FPDC Editorial Staff 

Yaqoob Butt

Yaqoob in action against Maldives.

Ever since Atif ‘Bulldozer’ Bashir injured himself last September playing for Barry Town, Pakistan have been found wanting against the opposition.

Be it stronger sides like Singapore or Maldives or similarly ranked Nepal, with no Adnan Ahmed, Amjad Iqbal or Zia us Salam available for the recent matches, Pakistan have struggled to stamp authority on the middle of the pitch and only followed the direct route ignoring the midfield. Another domestic player who people have had high hopes from was Yasir Afridi, but he too disappointed with his inability to keep the ball and pull strings in the middle.

The Green Shirts  used Atif Bashir in the past for pretty much every position apart from the goal, and he did well everywhere and proved himself as a genuine utility man. However, with Atif being ruled out till August it is hard to see who can fill that role, which includes doing most of the running in the middle, tough tackling and covering the defenders.

Yaqoob Butt has been a good discovery so far, even though he only started the final games against Maldives and was given 15 minutes in the game prior to that. Nonetheless, he made great impact where his corner led to Pakistan scoring a last minute equalizer. Yaqoob is tall, (6’4 to be precise), tough tackling and good in the air, besides being in the hunt for national team call up, first approaching and PFF in 2007 when he was just 18.

While he was not called up then due to being too young and incomplete documentation being another reason, he came to notice again in 2010 when Pakistan International XI (a team made up of European based players of Pakistani origin) played against Woking FC.

The coaching consultant of PFF then, Graham Roberts called Yaqoob up for the 2010 Asian Games but incomplete documents yet again prevented his participation. Soon after he suffered a knee injury which took him long time to recover, but luckily he is now back fit and playing in the Danish 3rd Division, from where he has merited a call up from the Pakistan coach.

Atif and Yaqoob both preferred central defender’s role but are happy to do the job in the middle of the pitch. However, the latter only got around 100 minutes in the 3 games and was an unused sub in the opening game of the tour against Nepal.

His start is much better than Atif’s;  who was used as a right winger by the then coach Akhtar and subbed before half time in every group game of SAFF 2008. Atif then went play every single game until December 2011 for senior and U23s, becoming a vital cog for the team in the process.

It looks highly unlikely that Zavisa will alter his favourite 2 centre backs in order to accommodate Yaqoob and would prefer the highly experienced Amjad and Adnan in the middle, but it’s also important that Zavisa sees Yaqoob’s pace as a positive thing, as this is something which Amjad will not be able to offer in the middle.

Amjad should be accommodated in the defence due to his leadership, organization skills and ability to read the game well. Yaqoob’s height will be a plus in the middle where can win the aerial balls and lay it off to the wingers or play it through to the attacking players, something which was hardly seen in the last 4 games.

Just like Atif, Yaqoob wears his heart on his sleeve when playing for Pakistan and is happy to do any role be it anywhere in defence of midfield. It’s time for Zavisa to give likes of Yaqoob a fair chance ahead of the qualifiers see what he contribute to the team and maybe he can fill the void left by Atif’s absence. Pakistan need a hatchet man, someone who could trouble the opposition, break their rhythm and give advantage in the middle and Yak definitely looks like the player to do that. This would provide safety and freedom to the attacking players such as Adnan to push forward and be creative which was also absent against Nepal and Maldives.

It’s time for the Yak to come and fill Bulldozer’s boots.