Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Pakistan team’s tour of India for a two-match friendly series could have far greater benefits for the country’s footballers than just international exposure.
With the inaugural season of the money-spinning Indian Super League (ISL) — a football tournament in the franchise-based pattern of cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) — set to kick off in October this year, a good performance by the Pakistan players may see them land a contract with one of the eight franchises.
Pakistan play two matches against India in Bangalore on Aug 17 and 20 and although the ‘central international player draft’ for the ISL set to be held a day after the end of the series, the country’s footballers might yet be picked up by the franchises.
“Representatives from the franchises would be there to see the games and to pick up the best talent,” Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider Khan told Dawn from Lahore, where a press conference was held ahead of the team’s departure on Wednesday.
“There is a verbal agreement with the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) that at least one of our players should feature in the first edition of the ISL,” Sardar Naveed, who will be travelling with the team, added.
“I also have a meeting with Sukhwinder Singh, the managing director of sports management group Libero Sports, to explore the possibilities of our players featuring in the ISL,” he remarked.
Pakistan will travel to Bahrain after the Indian tour where the team will play the country’s Olympic team while a few friendlies with local clubs have also been lined up.
“International exposure is always good for the players,” Sardar Naveed said. “We’re trying to form a solid team which has good experience ahead of the Asian Games.
“In addition to that, if the players were to attract foreign attention, that will be a bonus.”
The ISL has attracted a bevy of former stars like Frenchmen Robert Pires and David Trezeguet, Spaniards Joan Capdevila and Luis Garcia and Sweden’s Freddie Ljungberg.
It’s an opportunity that has Pakistan captain Kaleemullah excited.
“This would be great for our local players,” Kaleem, who along with compatriot Mohammad Adil plays for Kyrgyzstan giants Dordoi Bishkek, told Dawn on Wednesday.
“If any of our players get signed by the ISL, it would present them an opportunity to play in a professional environment.”
Kaleemullah signed a lucrative two-year contract worth Rs10 million with Dordoi last month and PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat singled out that deal as a sign of progress for Pakistan football.
“A deal like that was unheard of over the years,” Hayat told Dawn on Wednesday. “It shows that football in the country is on the rise.
“The transfer of Kaleem and Adil gives other youngsters motivation that it is quite possible to have a good future as a professional footballer from Pakistan.”
Meanwhile, Hayat termed the upcoming series between the arch-rivals as a landmark one considering the two sides will renew their rivalry after a gap of nine years.
The last time the neighbours met in a bilateral series in 2005 where Pakistan beat India 3-0 in the final match in Lahore to triumph on goal difference.
“This series will help break barriers,” Hayat said. “We wanted to hold the series earlier but it wasn’t possible due to the security situation and political tensions between the two countries.
“A bilateral series between the two countries will help the development of football in the region and of course ignite the passion of football fans in the region as a Pakistan-India clash in any sport stands out.
“I’m sure that the contests will be very competitive and entertaining and we’re fairly confident about our chances as we have players who have experienced the highest level of football.”
Hayat added that playing in India would provide the players with a vital learning curve.
“India might not be far ahead of us in the FIFA rankings but it is working to be a big powerhouse in football,” he said.
“They are holding the U17 FIFA World Cup in 2017 and now they will have a glamorous football league in the shape of the ISL.”
India are 151st in the rankings, 14 places above Pakistan and Hayat believes consistent international exposure will help the team improve on their ranking.
“The team need greater exposure and a regular need to play at the highest level,” Hayat said, adding that he believes the tours of India and Bahrain will provide the team with good preparation for the Asian Games.
It was view endorsed by Kaleem. “Good results in the tours will boost our morale and provide us with good practice for a good performance at the Asian Games.”
Pakistan leave for India on Friday. The Asian Games will be held in the South Korean city of Incheon from September 19. Squad:
Goalkeepers: Saqib Hanif, Ahsanullah, Muzammil Hussain; Defenders: Mohammad Ahmed, Mohammad Sohail, Mohammad Salman, Mohammad Bilal, Faisal Iqbal (vice-captain), Ehsanullah, Mohsin Ali, Amjad Hussain; Midfielders: Naveed Ahmed, Saddam Hussain, Bilawal ur Rehman, Mehmood Khan, Mohammad Riaz, Sher Mohammad Baloch; Forwards: Sher Ali, Mansoor Khan, Mohammad Adil, Mohammad Zeeshan, Kaleemullah (captain), Abdul Salam.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2014