The balance sheet [TNS]

The balance sheet [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

And finally Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) have proved that they are the best football team in the country. They clinched their record fifth title of the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) which concluded here at the KPT Stadium on January 13.

In the last league match KRL needed a 4-0 win against strong Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) and they did exactly that in front of a huge crowd. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) finished as the runners-up, while SSGC got the third position.

KRL and PAF finished the season with 51 points each. They were also tied on 40 goal-average. But KRL had conceded 12 goals, one less than PAF.

KRL’s previous titles had come in 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. WAPDA have four crowns to their credit which they claimed in 2004-05, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2010-11.

Army have won the league twice, while K-Electric have to their credit one title.

The winners KRL were handed over Rs1.2 million with the runners-up PAF going away with Rs900,000 and SSGC taking Rs600,000.

Besides, Rs120,000 each 7was handed over to Tanvir Mumtaz (best goalie, KRL), Mohammad Naeem (best player, 13 goals, two hat-tricks, PCAA) and Ansar Abbas (Army, leading scorer, 15 goals).

Entering the league not as favourites because of the pre-season transfer of some of their key players, the Rawalpindi-based KRL worked very hard. Before the final league game against SSGC, many people were saying that KRL were out of the title race as beating SSGC by a four-goal margin was not possible. Backed by a gentle coach Sajjad Mehmood, KRL surprised the experts with a superb display.

The credit goes to KRL manager Ayaz Butt who kept his players happy throughout as he took care of their money matters and also provided them with facilities of every kind. The players’ fitness was remarkable throughout the event. The daily allowance, which KRL give to their players, is more than any other outfit of the top-tier league.

The most important thing about Ayaz is his passion for football. He also handles cricket but the time which he gives to football reflects in KRL’s achievement in the sport. After the league he told me that he would now also pay attention to cricket.

PAF were unlucky to finish second. The way they played in the entire season was superb. It could have been a double glory for them in a year had they won the title. They had clinched the 2018 National Challenge Cup.

SSGC of Tariq Lutfi remained impressive in the season. On paper SSGC were strong as they had recruited a bunch of Pakistan team players by giving them decent packages. They had been given entry into the top league through controversial qualifiers from which Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL), Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) and Ashraf Sugar Mills (ASM) also benefitted.

It’s a positive trend that the PPFL teams have started investing heavily in football. Some teams offer more than Rs80,000 in salary to their players.

Army and WAPDA maintained their prestige despite the retirement of their seasoned players. They finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the season that lasted for over four months.

K-Electric, who were to defend the title being the winners of the 2014 edition, performed really bad, ending sixth. Their frontline performed horribly in the entire season. One of the key reasons behind K-Electric’s below-par showing in the season is that they missed the services of former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa, who served as assistant coach, having retired as a player. The team management also missed the services of their manager Zabe Khan. Under his command K-Electric had become the best side of the country.

Zabe these days is working for Leisure Leagues Pakistan, a company of the World Group.

K-Electric were the only team to have a foreign player. They had recruited Nigerian midfielder Wilson Segun, who missed the last few matches due to expiry of his visa. Nasir Ismail’s National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) finished eighth and Navy ended 9th. They were followed by Chaman’s Muslim FC, Chaman’s Afghan FC and SNGPL.

Karachi Port Trust (KPT) got relegated for the first time in their football history. The main reason for their relegation was that they depended on low quality stuff. Around nine of their players served on monthly stipends of Rs15,000 each. They need to invest heavily in the sport if they want to compete at the highest domestic level.

The others who got demoted were Nushki’s Baloch FC. They finished with only six points. Bahawalpur’s ASM, who went to the top league after getting through the qualifiers, withdrew from the third round held in Karachi citing financial constraints. Strict action should be taken against such teams that violate rules. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) did not appear in the league because of financial issues.

This was the first time that a round was also held in Multan under floodlights, an experiment which managed to pull big crowds.

The league was unique in the sense that it was held under two bodies. FIFA-recognised PFF handled the league until December 31, 2018. The last 13-day matches were held under the PFF formed as a result of the Supreme Court-ordered elections.

But the league will not be recognised by FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as the last part was conducted under the newly-elected body which is not recognised internationally.

One of the worst times of the league for the leading clubs was when the AFC refused Pakistan a spot in the AFC Cup mainly due to club licensing issues.

There are many negatives to be pointed out. The pitches were bad, the refereeing standard was poor, qualifiers were introduced, spectators attacked a referee at Malir, and there was a lack of proper ambulance facilities. Referees also pulled out of the event when the new body took the league control.

Among the positives were live streaming of matches, introduction of decent match bonuses, handy subsidy for Balochistan-based clubs (Rs600,000 each), introduction of handsome dailies for referees and match commissioners (around 80 percent increase), fine accommodation for referees and payment of ground fee by the PFF itself.

The total cost of the league was Rs20 million. It ended with the players heading towards their homes wondering what the future of the sport in Pakistan is.

Those who took part in Pakistan’s international engagements earned around 6000 dollars during the last eight months.

Those who played in the league got bonuses and daily allowances besides salaries from their departments.

Now those who feel the pain of the players may think how much financial damage the players have faced because of the three-year hiatus.

Because of the dispute over PFF, Pakistan is on the verge of losing an opportunity to feature in the Olympics qualifiers and World Cup qualifiers. A camp had been planned from January 22 for the twin assignments and some bilateral series. But nothing seems to be happening now because of the dispute which is expected to invite international sanctions.

Although the new body claims that it will focus on domestic football, it will not be possible to strengthen domestic football without international exposure to the players. Let’s see which way the pendulum tilts in the coming months.

Published in The News on Sunday, 20 January 2019