New PFF technical director Limones aims to create footballing identity for Pakistan [Dawn]

New PFF technical director Limones aims to create footballing identity for Pakistan [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: He might have been associated with Atletico Madrid for the last several years but Daniel Limones’ coaching philosophy is less Cholismo and more Tiki-Taka.

The Spaniard was on Wednesday unveiled by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee as its new technical director, a job he likened to working on a ‘blank canvas’.

For more than half of the last decade, Pakistan football has been marred by crisis and controversy. It led to FIFA appointing a Normalisation Committee to oversee the affairs of the PFF last year, the mandate of which expires in December. Limones’ contract too is till then.

A head coach at several teams in the women’s first division in Spain at the start of his career before joining Spanish giants Atletico where he worked in different capacities, Limones has six months to show what he’s about and, maybe, earn an extension when the freshly elected PFF set up comes in.

Good thing for Limones, who has been in Lahore for the last two years as the head coach of Atletico Madrid Academia, is that he doesn’t have big shoes to fill with Pakistan never having had someone as qualified as him or rather someone who did wonders in that role.

Add to the fact that the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has brought sports to a halt in the country, Limones can set up a blueprint for the country to play the game whenever football eventually resumes.

“The aim is to promote a national identity in football,” Limones told reporters during a virtual news conference on Wednesday after his appointment was announced. “And make sure that the players identify with that idea.”

That idea will have some of Cholismo but more of Tiki-Taka.

Cholismo was introduced to Atletico by their talismanic coach Diego Simeone, whose arrival at the club in December 2011 transformed the club from also-rans to one of Spain’s best alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona.

After knocking out defending champions Liverpool out of the Champions League in March this year, Simeone claimed Cholismo meant ‘playing to win’, a style that involves detailed tactical organisation most notably in defence with players willing run and fight aggressively to launch quick counterattacks.

It’s not as pleasing to the eye as Barca’s signature Tiki-Taka, a style of play characterised by short passing and movement with a focus on keeping possession, but maybe Pakistan teams across all levels could learn a thing of two from Cholismo with leaky defences having caused much heartache over the last several decades.

“The first team [at Atletico] played a certain style but it isn’t what is preached at the academy,” said Limones when asked whether Cholismo was something he was looking to introduce as a blueprint for national teams to play in his role as technical director.

“I’m more for keeping possession, making passes and I see a system in which we can make the players more safe in both attacking and defensive transitions,” added Limones, a UEFA Pro-License holder who joined Atletico as a methodology supervisor for its age-group teams in 2016 before becoming their sports complex coordinator.

Since September 2018, Limones has been in Pakistan as the coach and manager at the Atletico Academy. In that role, he’s had a look at local talent and the football system that exists in the country.

“We have liquid gold [that we need to solidify] in terms of talent,” he said. “We have to start on grassroots and bringing in kids to play football and grow up with an understanding of the game.

“There’s also a need to empower the coaches. A football ecosystem needs to be put in place. If there is a similar mind set about football across all levels, the possibilities are endless.”

The tenure of his contract, however, means Limones has little time to execute his plans and inculcate his philosophy across all levels.

“The idea is to develop a plan and set a blueprint for the future,” he said. “The national teams can’t gather at the moment due to the coronavirus situation but as soon as we can return to football, we will try to have camps. In the meantime, we can try to propagate the philosophy amongst our coaches through workshops. That’s of prime importance since without coaches’ education, no country can move forward in the game.”

PFF Normalisation Committee chairman Humza Khan stated that Limones’ appointment was part of the committee’s responsibility to ensure work continues to be done on the technical side of the game.

The technical director’s seat has been vacant since Shahzad Anwar left the role following the appointment of the Normalisation Committee.

“There is a responsibility placed on us regarding the game even if the Normalisation Committee has an interim role,” he said during the news conference. “Even if Daniel can put a football development plan in place, it will be a great service to the game. Looking at his credentials, I’m sure whoever comes in [after the election] would want to work with the plan he makes.

“Football activity will resume in the country at some stage and we’re planning for that. For now, Daniel coming on board will help us hopefully to uplift the standards of the game. It will ultimately help us when we get back to being on the field.”

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2020