Maria looks to make her mark with Pakistan [Dawn]

Maria looks to make her mark with Pakistan [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: Maria Khan went from goalkeeper in the United States to midfielder in the United Arab Emirates and now wants to help women’s football in Pakistan in any capacity she can.

Her journey to the national women’s team camp currently underway in Lahore has seen her dispel the notion that most of the diaspora players gain an easy entry into the team.

Maria, though, has tested herself at the National Championships and proven she’s worthy of a spot at the national team’s training camp; the first in seven years after infighting in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) saw women’s football largely ignored.

Despite her stellar performances for Wapda in the National Championships in 2018 and 2019, her inclusion in the training camp saw many questions why a player of US-origin was called up.

“My both parents are Pakistani and although I haven’t been raised in the country, I feel a very deep connection with the country,” she said an interview with Dawn on Friday. “At no stage did I want to play for US despite so many opportunities. I wanted to wait for the opportunity to represent Pakistan.”

Maria played as goalkeeper in the University of Denver’s women’s team with her transition to a midfielder coming when she moved to the UAE for her Masters degree in 2013.

Once in the UAE, she began playing amateur football there. It was there that the close proximity to Pakistan saw her learn about women’s football in the country.

Five years later, Maria took part in the National Women’s Championship for the first time.

“I’m a huge advocate for development of sports,” she said. “I was very fortunate to take part in the National Championships in 2018 and I got to know firsthand about the potential and talent that is there in Pakistan.”

Maria is one of the senior players, age-wise, at the training camp. The gulf in women’s football that has come with the crisis in the PFF has meant there are now several up-and-coming youngsters vying for a spot in the roster.

“There are a lot of young girls who have good potential,” she noted. “There is a healthy competition in the team. For me, I’m trying to feed into the experience that the team is having at the camp.”

Maria will have to wait at least until next year to make her debut for the national team with the Covid-19 pandemic having put the game on hold internationally.

“I’ll keep playing until my legs keep going,” she said, when asked if she would be looking to head into management in the future. “The camp has been hard on the body but I’ll keep going on until I feel I can contribute to the team in any capacity on the field.”

Maria said the holding of the training camp was a good step taken by the PFF Normalisation Committee, which was appointed by global football body FIFA last year to sort out matters in the country’s football governing body.

“They’re trying to put a system in place which helps in organisation and development,” said Maria. “The entire staff including [PFF technical director] Dani Limones is working on several aspects including the neglected areas of players’ mental health and nutrition.”

She however hopes that there are changes made to the format of the National Women’s Championship to ensure more competition. Since its inception, the Women’s Championship has been played as a knockout tournament and Maria believes that a league system will tremendously benefit the women’s game.

“Consistency is essential,” she said. “A league will give the players a chance to play regularly. I really benefitted from that during my career and I hope girls and Pakistan get a similar chance.”

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2020