by Alam Zeb Safi
Pakistan football team will be preparing to move to India from Mauritius when this piece appears to feature in the SAFF Cup slated to be held in Bengaluru from June 21 to July 4. Pakistan lost the first two games in the four-nation event in Mauritius against Mauritius and Kenya 3-0 and 1-0, respectively.
On Saturday (June 17) the Green-shirts were scheduled to face Djibouti, a team which was well-poised to win the series because of the initial two wins. They were awarded a win in their first game against Kenya when the latter came late and so the show was cancelled. And in the second clash they downed hosts Mauritius 3-1.
Pakistan played nine diaspora players in their line-up, with mostly seven on the field which shows the brigade was completely dominated by foreign-based recruits.
For achieving short-term goals the move was not bad but for long-term goals the authorities will need to focus more on their home-grown footballers who are the real future for the country’s football which has seen extremely bad days during the last seven years.
We had an interaction with Pakistan’s popular names Nasir Ismail, a former Pakistan assistant coach, and former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa about Pakistan team’s matters and they will tell you about the implications of using too many foreign-based players in the team.
“It is evident that diaspora players, despite their talent and potential, have not been as effective when representing Pakistan,” Nasir, who holds an AFC License A and has vast experience of coaching at various levels, told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS).
“This is primarily due to their limited involvement in our domestic events and their failure to fully engage in comprehensive training camps. It is crucial for these players to participate in our domestic competitions as it provides them with the necessary experience and exposure to our local style of play,” Nasir said.
“The commitment during matches is another factor where foreign based players often fall short. In comparison our local players exhibit a greater level of dedication and passion when representing their country. This lack of commitment on the part of the diaspora players can hinder the overall performance of the team and impede its progress,” said Nasir.
“To rectify this situation, we must focus on key aspects that can positively impact our football landscape. Firstly, our local players require more exposure through international friendlies against strong opponents. Similarly, arranging matches in Europe would provide our players with invaluable experience and help them develop their skills further. India, a rival nation, has made commendable strides by investing in their grassroots and organizing such matches which is reflected in their improved FIFA world ranking of 101,” he said.
“However, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of our domestic structure. We need to establish a professional league that attracts foreign players to participate in. This would not only raise the level of competition but also provide our local players with the opportunity to learn from the experienced professionals. Such a league would be a catalyst for the overall improvement of Pakistani football,” Nasir said.
“By harnessing the potential of the diaspora players and creating a robust domestic structure we can unlock the true potential of our footballing talent. Our local players possess exceptional skills and with increased exposure and professional opportunities they have the potential to outshine their counterparts in the SAFF region,” Nasir said.
“I call upon the entire football community, including the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) coaches, players and supporters to unite in our efforts to strengthen the foundation of Pakistan’s football. Let us work together to provide more exposure to our local players through international friendlies and matches in Europe. Furthermore, let us push for the establishment of a professional league which could attract foreign players, fostering an environment of growth and excellence,” he said.
“Together we can transform Pakistani football into a force to be reckoned with. Let us invest in our grassroots, empower our local talent and create a legacy that will make our nation proud,” Nasir said.
Former Pakistan’s captain Mohammad Essa talked about the implications of using diaspora players. “The big issue with the diaspora players is that they don’t attend camp and join the team quite late. Because of this Pakistan loses its first game of an international event which makes it difficult for the side to keep alive in the tournament and so faces exit,” Essa told TNS.
“Yes, their presence in the team may be useful if they attend a 20-day camp which will help build coordination. We saw in the match against Mauritius where there was no coordination seen between various sections of the team which let the side down 3-0 eventually as Pakistan conceded three goals inside 18 minutes.
We have been using foreign-based players for the last couple of decades but without any major success. It’s indeed injustice with our local brand which direly needs focus as they are our future,” Essa said.
Essa also talked about Pakistan’s preparation for the SAFF Cup which is set to be hosted by India in Bengaluru from June 21 to July 4.
“The way we played in Mauritius is not the kind of preparation which was needed for the team ahead of the SAFF Cup. The management tried to protect its pride. It did not opt for an open and positive game which could also test the team’s potential as we are to play against tough India and Kuwait in the SAFF Cup. The management should have taken bold decisions. If you remember, we had played with a positive approach against tough teams like Japan in the 2006 Doha Asian Games.
It always helps when you have a coach with solid international credentials as a player as in that case, he knows better various situations as he already has passed through them during his playing career,” Essa said.
Now the focus is being shifted to SAFF Cup and it will be interesting to see how Pakistan, which is dominated by foreign-based players, play against India and Kuwait, which are tough sides in their group along with Nepal who also defeated Pakistan 1-0 a few months ago in a friendly in Kathmandu.
Personally, I feel if we utilize so many foreign-based players then it will leave our own home-grown stuff utterly deprived. They will be discouraged and will stop playing football. Yes, we can give chances to two or three foreign-based players who have extraordinary potential. We should not feel pressure from those strongly backing foreign-based players while sitting themselves in foreign countries.
We need to build our local talent, invest in them and it will make it easier for the management and federation to handle the things rightly. It will also reduce the financial burden on the federation. What is the need of holding a camp of so many local players if you are to play only foreign-based players in the international circuit? Let’s do justice with our local players who have the potential to excel if we give them exposure.