by Alam Zeb Safi
Football in Pakistan was badly missed during the last eight years and only off and on activities for men’s teams were organised. The long drought frustrated the players, coaches and other officials related to the sport. The long barren patch hurt the players and their families and at times we saw players and officials finding it difficult to look after their families. Some departments also disbanded their football teams which added to the woes of the players.
But it’s an accepted fact that good days follow bad days and now we have started seeing some good days. When FIFA restored Pakistan’s membership recently excitement was seen among football stakeholders, especially those whose bread and butter is attached with the sport.
The vital task before NC is to hold the PFF elections and I hope it will do its duty within the constitutional framework and legal time-frame. And on the other side NC is also responsible to run day-to-day football affairs which cannot be neglected. Some people say that NC should stick to only conducting the PFF elections. I think besides elections we also need to revive football.
NC did a fine job when it helped women football of the country resume its international activities after eight years. The national women football team these days is busy playing in the SAFF Championship in Kathmandu. Pakistan lost to India 3-0 in their opener at the Dasharath Stadium on September 7 and was scheduled to face Bangladesh in their next Group A show on September 10.
I think Pakistan made a good return to international women football as the way the girls played against strong India was praiseworthy. The credit also goes to fresh-look coach Adeel Rizki, who did not have any previous experience of handling a national side. Although Pakistan was a bit too defensive it is hoped that it will show some aggression in matches against other teams in its pool.
I will appreciate NC for the way it has taken an initiative to immediately provide an opportunity to national top women players.
Another proud aspect of the women team is that it also carries US-based skipper Maria Khan who is the granddaughter of former squash guru Hashim Khan, and UK-based footballer Nadia Khan who looked smart in the game against India. We need such footballers. As the time progresses Pakistan women team will get some more overseas players and it will bring variety to the national brigade and our home-grown players will also learn from them.
Now we come to men’s football. The camp of national men’s team is in operation in Lahore under the pro license coach Shehzad Anwar. Around 140 players had been invited to trials and now 35 to 40 have been shortlisted for the camp. Although some departmental officials complain that their key players have been ignored I don’t think Shehzad would have done anything outside of merit. He is a fine coach and must have taken decisions on merit.
The big issue is that even our mainstream players did not remain in top shape during the last eight years or so which mostly passed without activities at the top level. When players get to play then selection problems will also be overcome.
NC has also hired a Brazilian trainer Rodrigo and the young man has worked for a few days with the senior team in Lahore. According to sources, he is a hard working individual and his presence with the team will boost the players’ fitness.
Currently there is no major assignment for the national team but NC wants to arrange a few friendlies with foreign nations so that the team could return to international circuit and improve its rankings. I hope NC will succeed in its mission. The camp and international engagements will help footballers start earning again which will bring relief to their families in these times when the country’s economy is in dire straits.
I understand that NC is managing financial matters through a transitory arrangement as the actual PFF accounts are not in its possession because of litigation but it will be important to announce at least the National Challenge Cup. I don’t think in this situation going for a big event like Premier League will be possible but it will not be difficult for NC to hold the National Challenge Cup which is very important for departmental teams.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently announced the lifting of ban from departmental sports, so it’s the best time for NC to hold a national event. Those departments which had disbanded their teams would then go for constituting their brigades afresh.
Sources in some departments tell me when they talk to their departments’ top brass about forming teams they are asked for what activities the teams are being formed. So it’s important to announce the National Challenge Cup, which is the second major event of Pakistan domestic structure.
Football is the most sought-after sport in Pakistan and we should start properly looking after it. Although there is a huge work to do to correct the system, it is not in the domain of NC. The new elected body will handle the bigger tasks in future as we have to do a lot of work in the sector right from club licensing to league structure and football governance.
I hope the coming months bring more happiness to our football community and I hope that in near future we will be able to see a new elected body handling the PFF affairs. NC should act sincerely and we should support it sincerely so that the eventual objectives could be achieved.
Some major political figures are silent but they have planned how to contest the PFF elections and they have planned how to win elections. Hope things go in the right direction.