This time, for Pakistan! [TNS]

This time, for Pakistan! [TNS]

By Shahal Khoso (The News on Sunday)

It is time the PFF woke up and rescue its variant of the beautiful game before it perishes once and for all. Not for themselves maybe, but for our country.

Every achievement needs a vision, a vision that looks far beyond the innumerable hurdles one must face to acquire the goal. But the question is: do they actually want it enough? That is the case with Pakistan’s national football team.

Run by a very sluggish Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), the Pakistan team gives shades of a wounded hawk in an open sky.

The condition of Pakistan’s national football team is not an obscure matter.

As it is languishing at a devastating 188th position in the FIFA World Ranking, it is safe to say those involved have forfeited all ambitions and dreams.

Being scuttled in a habitual system, like a 9-5 office stint, Pakistan’s coach Mohammad Shamlan seems to have adopted the ‘desi’ instinct of sitting rigid and letting things roll as they do.

From the policies to the selections, everything seems to go downhill when it comes to the national team’s development. The team’s prosperity rests in the disregarded cradle of PFF president Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat and its members.

With the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers approaching in March, the federation seems to have called it quits and the approach seems unimpressive and uninspired. Not the finest course towards the once proposed ‘Vision 2022’, which sees Pakistan playing the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Only a fool won’t accept it for a complete hoax.

The ‘Vision 2022’ document, unavailable for public inspection, has been labeled as a trick by sources that have seen it. It was said to be a document that states Pakistan’s inevitable growth in Asian football.

The plan features youth development activities funded by AFC, a project that is no longer operational.

The PFF, ignorant and dispassionate towards the issues, has left the responsibility to coach Shamlan’s shoulder, who doesn’t handle one but two teams, the national senior and the under-23 team.

Shamlan occupying 3 roles, Technical Director, Head Coach Senior and U23 Teams
Shamlan occupying 3 roles, Technical Director, Head Coach Senior and U23 Teams

Shamlan, also appointed as the PFF Director Technical in October 2013, believes the under-23 team needs more recognition than the senior team, which would have been comprehensible had his fondness for young outfits produced results.

Common sense would say, give Shamlan what he wants but give Pakistan what it needs and what it needs are two coaches, each separate for the senior and the under-23 team.

If Shamlan wants to work with young, home-grown players he can take charge of the under-23 team. Since he’s not on the PFF’s but on the Bahrain Football Association’s payroll, there should be some other coach for the senior team. If the Federation thinks it doesn’t need another foreign coach, it doesn’t have to.

Shahzad Anwar, enjoys good rapport with local and overseas players.
Shahzad Anwar, enjoys good rapport with local and overseas players.

Shahzad Anwar, who served as caretaker coach in 2008, has been with the team for a long time. He has an AFC A-License and enrolled on to Pro Licence, the highest football coaching qualification. If there is one person who knows the potential of Pakistan’s complete roster, the locals and the foreign-based players combined, it is Shahzad. There is the simple solution. Two coaches on a single payroll, both getting exactly what they want.

“From my perspective, the under-23 championship is more important than the World Cup qualifiers as we have invested a lot in preparing our young side during the past one and a half years,” Shamlan told ‘The News’ in an interview recently.

It is a mystery to me why we wasted a year and a half training the colts when we didn’t even have a strong starting squad. The only way we can expect a positive result from the teams in the 2018 WCQs is if we settle on one team.

What the federation and the coach fail to comprehend is that the Green-shirts have never had a better chance of producing a World Cup qualifiers performance in their entire history.

Pakistan has little chance of doing well at the under-23 qualifiers.

If the PFF plans to go ahead with Shamlan as coach, what it needs to make sure is to play with one stable squad. A squad that has veterans, homegrown, under-23s and foreign-based players. The criterion for selection should be ability, not age or location.

Pakistan’s former coach Zavisa Milosavljevic shed light on the subject in the past. “Of course, if the PFF wants to develop football and progress at the FIFA rankings, it must always play with the best team. It means to call all the best players of Pakistani origin worldwide,” Zavisa told ‘The News’ in an interview from Kyrgyzstan in November 2014.

It is a known fact that players who play in foreign leagues, on higher wages, inside better stadiums and a football-enthusiastic environment are in a far better condition than the locals.

Their physique, fitness, instincts and playing styles are of a far superior standard.

Pakistan must fully embrace overseas based players.
Pakistan must fully embrace overseas based players.

Imagine Pakistan’s national team if it included Bronshoj BK’s star goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, Pahang FC’s Zesh Rehman, former AC Horsen’s defender Nabil Aslam, NBP’s Faisal Iqbal, Sheffield United’s Otis Khan, Fremad Amager’s Hassan Bashir, K-Electric’s Mohammad Rasool and, of course, Dordoi Bishkek’s star trio Saddam Hussain, Mohammad Adil and Kaleemullah. This would be a perfect blend of experience and youth, fit to represent Pakistan for years to come.

If the PFF thinks it can hide behind a funds shortage excuse, it is wrong. It might have to come up with a better fish story.

The PFF does not have to worry about funds this year, receiving the annual $1.3 million from FIFA receiving $250,000 for the 2015 Financial Assistance Programme (FAP); $500,000 as a one-off financial bonus; and $300,000 as support for preparations of and taking part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. This sum was in addition to the prior portion of $250,000 of the bonus that was made available after the 2014 FIFA Congress.

Surely, these funds are enough to get us through the year with any sort of expenditure the PFF needs to make.

Let’s hope the WCQ budget isn’t there for running kitchens of the PFF’s top brass but practically used on travel expenses of the foreign-based players and other necessary things.

With the Green-shirts set to face Afghanistan in an international friendly on February 6, the road to the 2018 WCQ doesn’t look too smooth with players like Otis Khan and Sami Malik being invited to the camp on certain conditions — if not selected, they will have to cover their own travel expenses. Sounds more like an interview call than an international call.

If the ‘Vision 2022’ is still present in the eyes of the Shaheens, it is about time the people involved acted as a collective unit.

With the fading ambition to succeed in the near or distant future, it is safe to say Pakistan’s famous ‘jaisa horaha hai hone do’ system is winning yet again.

Harsh and responsible steps need to be taken to prepare a better national team. If the federation had the audacity to sack Zavisa a fortnight before the SAFF Championship, they can surely tell Shamlan to relinquish as the senior team coach and work with the under-23s.

It is time the PFF woke up and rescue its variant of the beautiful game before it perishes once and for all. Not for themselves maybe, but for Pakistan.