Finding Pakistan’s Mohamed Salah [TNS]

Finding Pakistan’s Mohamed Salah [TNS]

Mohamed Salah is currently one of the brightest stars in the world of football.

The Egyptian talisman has won countless accolades for his country and clubs and is currently Liverpool’s most valuable player. His rise from complete oblivion to global stardom is a fascinating story.

A similar story could be repeated with a Pakistani youngster at its centre.

The hunt for a Pakistani Mohamed Salah which began last February has entered a crucial phase with coaches from Swindon Town Football Club (STFC), a professional football club from Wiltshire, England, all set to pick a couple of youngsters from the slums of Lyari for a full-fledged scholarship that is aimed at grooming them into world class players.

Zavier Austin, Vice Chairman of the club, made a trip to Karachi last month along with coach Alex Pike. In their latest trip, the duo witnessed a series of exhibition matches involving youngsters from an academy set up by STFC and Karachi United.

Pike, a UEFA B license coach, carried out a series of trials at Karachi’s KMC Stadium last year. Over 300 boys turned up for the trials. From this pool, a total of 26 players were selected for training. During the past 12 months, the boys have been getting training from local coaches selected by experts from STFC. One of the local coaches, Zubair, recently made a trip to England where he received training from the club’s experts.

Karachi FC coach Zubair Ghulam Rasool Baloch at Swindon Town FC

The News on Sunday had a chit-chat with Pike following his latest trip to Pakistan. Following are the excerpts.

TNS: Have you finalised the two kids for the scholarship?

Alex Pike: We haven’t finalised it yet. We are still in the process of doing that and are very mindful that the boy needs to be ready to make the transition to England. Everything we do is for the individual, for the boy, so when a boy is ready, we will make that decision.

TNS: What are the main qualities that you are looking for in the players?

AP: Each boy possesses different qualities, across technical ability, athletic ability, social ability and psychological ability. All are different footballers and all of them are humans. The main thing we want to see is that boys are strong technically, in the way they can manipulate the football and decisions they make with it. That they are able to physically move well and use their body to their strengths. That they are curious to learn. That they have a mindset that makes them a proficient performer. That they that desire to be the best all the time.

TNS: What’s the next target for the programme?

AP: The next target for the programme is to give local coach Zubair the best experience in the United Kingdom, so that he can take his experiences back to the boys here at the academy and help them grow further.

Zubair has been across and returned to Karachi last month. It was a very successful trip with lots of exposure to multiple disciplines.

TNS: When is your next visit to Pakistan?

AP: I’ll be back in May. On the next visit the goal is seeing all that we have embedded around our values and DNA.

TNS: As a coach are you satisfied with the progress the boys and the local coaches have made so far?

AP: I’m extremely happy with them. The enthusiasm to learn and develop is massive, a crucial part to learning is being continuously curious. A trait that both boys and coaches have shown consistently in the past months.

Published in The News on Sunday, 5 March 2023