Trying to change football, one step at a time [Express Tribune]

Trying to change football, one step at a time [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel [The Express Tribune]

Big dreams, the kind that change society, usually come to those who have seen hard times themselves. Such is the case with UK-born Pakistani Majid Shafiq.

His footballing journey began from a dark place; as a child who was recovering from illness and unable to walk, to looking to change the future of Pakistani football by introducing a much-need sustainable academy set-up for players — something that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) failed to achieve since its inception in 1948.

The 42-year-old has proven his mettle with his latest success at the 2016 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup qualifiers as after having spent only three weeks with the Pakistan Premier Football League champions, K-Electric, he managed to guide the team to the second round of the event — a first for any Pakistani team in the Asian second-tier event.

“I was introduced to football as a gesture of sympathy from my school coach when I was seven,” Shafiq told The Express Tribune. “I fell ill, a throat infection got into my bloodstream and I was bed-ridden for 13 months when I was six. My kidneys were affected, my left kidney could have exploded with too much pressure, but I recovered and when I went back to school, the coach took me in to encourage me; he even made me the captain of the team, since I had just started to walk. Since then football has been a part of my life. I just fell in love with it.”

Majid drew inspiration from the sport and continued his passion as a player by playing with several clubs in UK and was also recognised as a coach by the England’s Football Association (FA) after he completed his coaching course in 1991. He claims to be the youngest-ever coach to be recognised by England’s football governing body, being 17 at the time.

The 42-year-old, who believes that football training should start at a very young age, is currently running a non-governmental organisation, Aspirations All-Pakistan Football Alliance (APFA). The NGO is a subsidiary of Aspirations Consultancy and Enterprises, which provides training and consultancy services to various football clubs in the UK.

Already running eight projects in the UK, Majid is planning to set up  APFA Elite Academies at over 20 locations in Pakistan, starting with Rawalpindi, Lahore and Islamabad and then later moving on to Karachi,  Quetta, Peshawar, Mirpur and Faisalabad among other locations.

Terming his son as the major reason he wanted to open up academies in Pakistan, Majid stated: “My son [Roman] was selected to represent Pakistan at the U12 level, but knowing the situation of football camps in Pakistan, with unqualified coaches and unacceptable pitches, I decided against sending him. It was then that I had the idea of opening academies in the country but when I approached the PFF, I met a lot of resistance and the idea was shot down. That is why I am trying to achieve this on my own.”

Majid believes that with the network of academies across Pakistan, PPFL players could also be recruited, which can in turn help improve the national side as well.

The academies not only provide training to the players but also educate the players on nutrition and even includes an online university project, APFA University, which started on August 18, for the coaches.

“I believe that, for the future, we need to groom players and bring football to them. We also have a mentoring programme, which aims to encourage children to choose football as a profession and we are in talks with various schools for that,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2015.