Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Last year was a historic one for Pakistan football in some aspects. While the performances of the national team improved, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) created history when they became the first side from the country to reach the final of an Asian club competition and the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) bagged an AFC award.
And PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat is optimistic 2014 will bring more glory and improve Pakistan football as a whole.
“Last year we saw the quality of football in the country improve by a long way and hopefully it will continue this year,” Faisal told Dawn in an interview on Wednesday.
“Our aim this year again would be to invest in youth football which has brought us good results over the last year.”
But he also demanded government support in helping the PFF realize their ambitions.
“We plan to initiate our FIFA Goal Projects this year in different areas of the country,” he said. “But we’ve still not been allotted land by the Punjab government to build those projects in Bahawalpur and Faisalabad.
“The projects there are crucial for the growth of youth football in the country as most of the country’s talent is coming from South Punjab right now.”
Reflecting on 2013, Faisal said that it was a good year for Pakistan football, both on and off the pitch.
He highlighted the performances of the junior teams in international events as crucial in the country’s progress.
“Our youth teams showed yet again that we can compete with the best in Asia at junior levels and now we have to work hard on helping that talent grow and bring glory for the country at senior level,” he said.
“We also hosted the qualifiers of the AFC U-16 Championship in Lahore which was a big achievement considering international sport hasn’t come to Pakistan for some time.
“Our successful organisation of that event also saw us get the hosting rights for the SAFF Women’s Championship which will be held in November.”
Faisal reiterated that last year saw PFF’s focus towards youth development and coaching clinics reaping its rewards.
“We’ve been holding coaching courses from AFC and FIFA over the last couple of years which has helped us get a good pool of trained coaches who can now guide our youngsters further,” he said.
“Our focus on youth development has seen young players come through in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL), which has become more competitive over the years.”
This season’s PPFL has been the closest to call. Wapda (42 points) currently top the standings, three points ahead of second-placed Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) in third. Two-time defending champions are also in the mix.
“The close title race which we’re seeing in the PPFL this season is testament to the fact that the league is improving and it has only been possible with local coaches being well-trained about the modern methods of the game,” Faisal added.
He also hopes next season will see the PPFL improve further with competing teams being reduced to 12 from 16 this season.
“FIFA asked us to improve our quality rather than focusing on quantity,” he said. “Hopefully by 2014, we’ll complete our transformation from a semi-professional to a professional league.”
He also hoped next season would see a side from the country win silverware at continental level.
“KRL were very close to winning the AFC President’s Cup [Asia’s third-tier club competition],” Faisal said. “Our clubs are now getting equipped to perform well at Asian level and hopefully we’ll see a team from Pakistan win and Asian title.”
That, he hopes, with the PFF being awarded the AFC ‘Aspiring’ Member Association Award this season, will catapult Pakistan football to new highs.
“The award won us a lot of international recognition for us and was a big morale-booster so hopefully our commitment to the game will see us improving further,” Faisal remarked.
With the national team’s only international event this year being the qualifiers for next year’s AFC U-22 Championship, Faisal hoped national team coach Mohammed Al Shamlan would help the team reach the event finals.
He was also largely satisfied with the performances of the Bahraini since he took over from Serbian Zavisa Milosavljevic in September.
“Shamlan has the charisma to help our football grow. Our performances under him have been quite satisfactory as we played well in the SAFF Championship but unfortunately luck wasn’t on our side and we also came close to winning the Philippines Peace Cup.
“So I’m highly optimistic that we’ll continue our progress next year,” he concluded.