by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Two years ago, Brazilian football great Ronaldinho arrived in Pakistan along with several other retired football stars to play a series of exhibition matches in Pakistan.
It was an event that the organisers expected to “start a new chapter in the football history of Pakistan”. It didn’t. Not much has changed. Pakistan football is where it was then.
But what the Ronaldinho event did achieve was that it has opened doors for more retired football stars to come to Pakistan.
On Thursday, Ronaldinho’s former Brazil team-mate Kaka arrived in Pakistan alongside Portugal legend Luis Figo for a whirlwind day trip spanning two cities during which they promised to come back again for a series of exhibition matches as part of the ‘World Soccer Stars’ event in April.
Once again, the organisers’ catchphrase is “promoting football”.
Questions though are raised about how football will be promoted in Pakistan when the organisers, UK-based Touchsky Group, conveniently forgot that Pakistan national team captain Saddam Hussain was among the audience for Kaka and Figo’s unveiling ceremony at a plush hotel here.
It was only when one of the members of the press mentioned that Saddam was present that he was called up on the stage where he presented the two football icons with the Pakistan national team jerseys.
Two years ago, TouchSky were the vendors for Leisure Leagues, the group that financed the Ronaldinho and friends tour. This time, TouchSky is doing this on its own.
“We’ve learnt [from two years ago] that exhibition matches don’t really do too much when it comes to really changing the landscape of football,” Leisure Leagues Chief Operating Officer Ishaq Shah told Dawn when asked why his organisation hadn’t followed up the Ronaldinho and friends tour.
“Change will come when international footballers can play alongside local talent regularly and consistently. That’s the plan we’re working on.”
Figo and Kaka, however, were optimistic that their tour will help football grow in the country.
“There’s great promise for football in Pakistan and we will try our best to develop the game here,” Figo, the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year, said.
The event in Karachi was supposed to be a press conference but it turned out that it was an invite-only gathering.
Only a few questions were fielded by the star duo while there was the usual questions about how they think football could develop in Pakistan and whether they’d tasted any Pakistani dishes despite them having been in the country for only a few hours.
Figo and Kaka spoke about FIFA’s move to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 as a “positive step which would help more countries to aspire for being at football’s grandest stage”.
The Karachi event was closed with TouckSky announcing that American singer Akon will provide the musical act for the opening ceremony of the World Soccer Stars event.
The duo then proceeded to Lahore where they were going to interact with general public at a shopping mall.
The World Soccer Stars is an imitation of the Star Sixes, an event that was held for the first time in London in 2017 which saw 12 national teams, full of former international representative stars, play six-a-side matches.
TouchSky are expected to announce more players in due time but Dawn has reliably learnt that the execution of the World Soccer Stars hinges on the number of sponsors the organisers are able to gather.
A bid to ensure the sponsorships saw only primetime television anchors being given interview opportunities with the two players.
In 2011, TouchSky cancelled a football series between Pakistan and India in England, dubbed ‘Clash of the Titans’, at the last minute citing they hadn’t received adequate money from the sponsors.
They were also in talks to bring Argentine legend Diego Maradona to Pakistan in 2014 but that also did not materialise.
Bringing Kaka and Figo to Pakistan for a sneak preview, though, is a statement of intent. How that will help football in Pakistan, however, remains to be seen.
Across the border in India, Figo — who retired in 2009 — had been involved in Premier Futsal for two years as its president. There, he had run-ins with All India Football Federation (AIFF) which called the league unauthorised.
Figo, who was briefly a FIFA presidential candidate its 2015 election, had claimed his franchise-based league was “creating conditions and platform for youngsters to play the sport” before he parted ways with the organisation in 2018, calling the five-a-side league a “complete failure”.