Waiting for the kick off [TNS]

Waiting for the kick off [TNS]

Alam Zeb Safi – The News on Sunday

We always shed a tear or two over the poor standard of Pakistan’s football when the FIFA World Cup is held every four years. But it is also a positive sign that we at least realise that our team should also be in the quadrennial extravaganza.

In Pakistan, we may find the likes of Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin Van Persie, and Luis Suarez but such type of talent goes down the drain due to one reason or the other.

If Pakistan’s colts could be at par with Iran, whose senior team is playing in the World Cup in Brazil, then why Pakistan’s senior team is incapable to progress to what is the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet?

The basic reason behind it is that in Iran colts pass through a certain system that polishes and grooms them well while in Pakistan there is no such system which could hone the skills of its youngsters and turn them into world class players.

It would be unjust to give credit to only a single region in Pakistan for producing quality players for national duty as highly talented players come from each and every province.

Still, Lyari and Chaman can be touted as the richest regions in terms of production of quality footballers.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, Lyari’s football standard has dropped due to fragile security situation in the region that has also forced most of the clubs to close shop.

Chaman, a town of Balochistan bordering Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, has a handful of skilled players in the national team. And it is also the most crowd-pulling area and there around 15,000 to 20,000 spectators normally throng the stadium for witnessing the Premier League matches.

But Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) centralised its league last year by limiting it to only Karachi and Lahore that deprived the die-hard fans of Chaman to witness their stars in action.

The PFF is administratively and economically a weak body which mainly depends on the fund it receives from FIFA and the AFC.

The PFF has set before itself a specific target which it calls ‘Vision 2022’ under which it would like to see its national brigade in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. And the PFF chief, Faisal Saleh Hayat, is quite optimistic about that. “Still there are eight years left and the way we are going I hope we stand with a good chance to achieve our goal,” he tells TNS.

But in reality, the PFF is not on the right path to achieve its goal. Presently, Pakistan, that shares 164th spot with Nepal in the world ranking, are ranked fourth even in South Asia behind Afghanistan (130), India (144) and the Maldives (147). The Green-shirts are still waiting for their maiden SAFF Cup crown.

The colts superseded their seniors when they lifted the Under-16 SAFF Cup title in Nepal in 2011 after beating India in the final.

The country’s top club Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) qualified for the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup but lost to Balkan FC of Turkmenistan 1-0 in Kuala Lumpur last year to finish as runners-up, which is a marvelous feat.

In 2007, Pakistan stunned the then Asian Champions Iraq by holding them to a goalless draw in their leg of the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers in Aleppo. And early this year, the country’s star players, Kaleemullah and Mohammad Adil, signed contracts with Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek for playing in their top league.

Besides these positives, no constant growth in the status of the sport has been witnessed. The basic reason behind the poor growth of football is that the authorities have no vision.

England-based Sunday Times’ recent report has even exposed the PFF for accepting bribes from the then AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam for favouring him and his colleagues in the wake of the AFC elections in order to have a successful 2022 World Cup bid for Qatar. However, the PFF has denied the claims of the English paper.

The league structure is defective. It is only a formality. Besides a handful of departments, most of the playing units in the league are unable to offer good incentives to their players and it discourages footballers.

The PFF is administratively and economically a weak body which mainly depends on the fund it receives from FIFA and the AFC. And due to its legal wrangling with the government on the tenure-restriction clause of the national sports policy, it is even unable to receive state funding. Its marketing wing has not even so far got a major sponsor for its top league. The PFF has shattered the confidence of the sponsors and even last year no one was ready to go for the bid for holding the National Challenge Cup.

The PFF direly needs a full-time Director Technical, who could handle the technical areas adroitly. Although the PFF has given the additional charge of Director Technical to Bahraini coach, Mohammed Shamlan, he will not be able to do justice with the vital area due to his attachment with the national team.

Although the PFF has been doing a positive role in getting Goal Projects from FIFA for different parts of the country but it will only work if other areas are also strengthened. The country also needs a few artificial turfs because its players always face problems when they play on such type of surfaces abroad.

If the PFF really wants to go with a foreign coach it should hire him for at least five years so that better results could be produced.

The national team will need at least 30 to 40 international matches a year, otherwise, it will not catch up with the pace teams of other countries move ahead.

Apart from fielding in the AFC official competitions, the PFF should also organise foreign tours for its youth teams so that the young blood could be properly groomed for future challenges.

The PFF should empower the provinces so that they could play a positive role in the development of the game. Currently, the provincial associations act as dummies and have no utility.

Pakistan’s qualified coach and AFC A Licence holder, Nasir Ismail, suggests how football in Pakistan could be improved. “The league needs improvement and should be made professional. Multinational companies will have to own our leagues right from the grassroots up to the senior level.”

“There is no contribution of the government in football team development. It will have to own it if it wants to see Pakistan in the leading football nations of Asia. If the government starts giving Rs 400m million or so to football every year then I am confident even if we are unable to reach the 2022 World Cup finals, at least by that time our team would be one of the best sides of Asia,” Nasir believes.

“The best qualified coaches should be given 200 to 300 dollars per month besides traveling and daily allowances. They should be tasked to prepare at least three to five top quality players a year. And if any coach fails to deliver he should be sacked and replaced with a better option. Coaches should pick what we call speedy players and not the skilled ones. Skill could be improved but you cannot make a slow player speedy,” he says.

“Under AID-27 programme, coaches used to be paid and you saw it yielded results as Pakistan lifted the Under-16 SAFF Cup title. But now you see no one is interested to work because they are not paid,” adds Nasir, who also worked with former Pakistan foreign coaches Salman Sharida (Bahrain), George Kottan (Austria) and Zavisa Milosavljevic (Serbia).