Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Expect foreign players, live broadcast and a more glamorous Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) from next season.
An Asian Football Confederation (AFC) delegation concluded a two-day meeting with Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) on Tuesday with Asia’s football governing body pressing for an introduction of a basic club licensing system in the country’s elite league.
“We had good meetings with the AFC officials,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Tuesday. “Ther recommendations they have given will surely make the league more appealing in its next edition.”
Next season’s PPFL, which will kick off in September, will see the introduction of the club licensing system to transform department teams into clubs.
“Once that is done, we will hopefully see the teams garner more support and the departments will have to fulfill some guidelines to be counted as clubs,” Lodhi added.
“That will see the clubs needing at least B-licensed head-coaches and youth academies as a basic requirement which will hopefully improve Pakistan football as a whole.”
The initiative to have B-licensed coaches was already in place last season while as far as the youth teams are concerned, the PFF plans to hold a youth championship later this year to ensure they are in place.
“We’ll be holding the National Youth League Championship later this year and it will give us a better idea of whether the clubs have a youth team or not,” Lodhi informed.
Lodhi added that the regulations will be finalized by March 25 and be implemented. “We’ve sent the regulations to the departments and are awaiting their response,” he said.
Marketing, sponsorships and broadcast issues were also discussed by the AFC officials, namely head of development Stuart Larman, development officer Essam Alsuhibani and Joe Palmer, the marketing consultant for AFC’s Kick Off project in Pakistan.
CHANGING ITS FACE
According to PFF’s marketing manager Shahid Khokar, the move will change the face of the league.
“The delegation was focused on promoting the PPFL,” he told Dawn on Tuesday. “The meetings were also attended by the corporate sector and their input was taken.
“The focus is on making the PPFL a public-friendly league.”
Khokar said that the initiative will see clubs developing a solid fan-base, which departments have failed in.
“Imagine if Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) or Karachi Port Trust (KPT) were to represent Karachi, imagine how much local support they will get from the city,” Khokar added.“It is just like Manchester United getting support from football fans in Manchester.”
The AFC delegation also stressed on live coverage of the league which it hopes will attract more fans — and sponsors.
“TV coverage is essential for the development of the league and it brings more fans and in the end more sponsors,” Khokar said.
The PFF has also reduced the number of teams from 16 to 12 next season and plans are afoot to make it a 10-team elite league by the 2015-16 season.
“The AFC delegation hailed the move to reduce the number of teams,” Lodhi said. “This will hopefully make for a more competitive league.”
Tariq Lutfi, the head coach of PPFL champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) believes the change in the PPFL could be a turning point for football in the country.
“This is the way football is played around the world,” Lutfi told Dawn. “Making the clubs regional representatives will be good for the game. And with local support, football will only grow.”
Lutfi referred to the strong local support enjoyed by the clubs in Balochistan.
“The clubs in Quetta and Chaman are backed by well-off individuals,” he said. “And they play well, they represent that region and there is a lot of interest when they play.
“The stadiums are packed there during PPFL matches and in the end it only benefits the clubs because they get the gate-money.
“If that happens throughout Pakistan, it could well be the turning point for the league.
“With good sponsorships and funding, the clubs can then also afford foreign players.”
Last season, PPFL saw its first foreign player in three years when KESC signed Nigerian striker Oludeyi Abayomi Sunday.
“The AFC asked us about the foreign player quota,” Lodhi informed. “And they said that the arrival of Sunday is a good sign for the league.”
Sunday’s agent former Nigerian captain Jay-Jay Okocha said that foreign players will help boost the league’s stature.
“In India, we provided a lot of African players to the I-League teams and the standard of football has risen there,” Okocha, who played for French giants Paris St Germain and English Premier League (EPL) side Bolton Wanderers in an illustrious career, told Dawn on Tuesday.
“I spoke to Sunday and he told me there is a lot of potential for foreign players in the PPFL.
“If the clubs in Pakistan can afford foreign players it will only benefit the league and football in general in the country.”