The need for domestic football league [TNS]

The need for domestic football league [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

Pakistan football team’s pathetic run in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers continued with yet another big 7-0 loss against Jordan at the latter’s backyard in Amman on March 26.

This was the fourth straight defeat for the Green-shirts, being handled by English coach Stephen Constantine. Pakistan started their Group G second round journey against Saudi Arabia in November and lost to their hosts in Al-Ahsa 4-0. Pakistan were lucky not to concede more goals in that game due to heavy downpour which had reduced the visibility in the first 15 minutes of the game in which Pakistan conceded two goals in the stoppage time. The Green-shirts, featuring many offshore players, lacked fitness.

Just days after Pakistan put up another disappointing performance and this time against Tajikistan as the latter hammered Stephen’s charges 6-1 in Islamabad.

And in Islamabad again a few days ago Jordan downed Pakistan 3-0 before demolishing them 7-0 at home to enhance their chances of reaching the third round.

Mostly overseas players have been used but it hasn’t worked and it is now clear that the offshore players are not superior to our homegrown talent. This debate should end now. We should focus on our home grown players. Yes, two or three overseas players, who play in top-rated leagues, can be given chances. But foreign element needs to be minimised as we have a massive population and we have a huge football base. What we need at this stage is the Premier League.

During the last nine years only once has the Premier League been conducted.

In the era of Faisal Saleh Hayat as the PFF president Pakistan conducted 11 leagues from 2004 to 2014 without any interruption.

However, in 2015 rifts in the football circle began, damaging Pakistan football. And it went too deep and now it seems that the whole football system has been destroyed.

Although in 2018-2019 Premier League was organised that too was managed by two different federations. Faisal-led PFF, which was internationally recognised, started the league and Ashfaq group, which formed a parallel PFF in the elections conducted under court orders, completed the league after taking charge.

However, the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee did nothing during the last four years as far as handling domestic events is concerned. It is absolute injustice with the players and their families whose only means of subsistence is football.

I was surprised that a senior NC official was not aware of the country’s football events during an interview with me. I told him that in the era of Faisal Saleh Hayat regularly Premier League and National Challenge Cup were conducted for years but he told me to show him the documentary proof. When I showed him the details he became silent.

The Premier League and the National Challenge Cup were regular features in the past and that was why Pakistan used to get fittest players for the national team.

It is the responsibility of NC to handle day-to-day affairs and holding the Premier League is its obligation.

After losing to Tajikistan 6-1 in Islamabad in November our home-grown footballers went to their homes for around four months before they were called for the camp under Stephen only a week before their home game against Jordan.

How can one form a team in such a short time? Overseas players joined them in Islamabad. This is ridiculous. NC has shown an extremely unprofessional approach and it is damaging the country’s football.

Stephen also wants Pakistan to hold its league. He says that in the absence of a league talent cannot be hunted and a better team cannot be constituted.

Now after being hammered by Jordan at the Amman Football Stadium Pakistan’s local players will remain inactive at their homes until they are invited for the camp for the remaining home game against Saudi Arabia on June 6 and away show against Tajikistan on June 11.

Although half of the National Challenge Cup is due and NC plans to complete it, I think it will be wrong to continue with that.

It is highly illogical to complete such a short tournament in one year. Its league stage was conducted almost a year ago. How can you go now for its knockout stage?

Stakeholders want the Premier League at this stage and not the National Challenge Cup.

“Yes we want the Premier League. There is no need for the Challenge Cup at this stage. It’s time for the league and it can be started on a month or forty days notice,” Sports Manager of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) Ayaz Butt told The News on Sunday.

“It is the Premier League which gives you talent. Karachi should be the centre of the league. NC should invite Stephen and he will be able to get a few better players for the national team,” Butt said.

“Football has been damaged due to the absence of a league which used to serve as a source of income also for the players and their families. Due to the absence of domestic events several departments abolished their teams. We have worked hard to maintain our team and it’s time for NC to announce the Premier League so that good days of Pakistan football could return,” Butt said.

He is right. The league is really the backbone of football in Pakistan and if there is no league you cannot constitute a good national team. NC should go for it. NC will have to pay only to referees and other technical officials and hardly a couple of clubs. Departments will bear their own expenses. So why is NC reluctant to go for the Premier League?

If there is a financial issue then NC should cut down its expenses and seek sponsors which will help in holding the league. Keeping such a huge pool of workers in the PFF headquarters is not sensible when you need money and when you don’t have to do anything big. NC should cut down its expenses and rather put in that money in the league.

If again NC fails to take a step towards the league it could be its end as a big protest in Islamabad is on the cards after Eid which may sink NC as effort is being made to also involve top state machinery in a bid to resolve the issues of Pakistan football. During the last nine years of turmoil we saw a complete group of star players getting wasted.

NC should not play with the sport anymore and take bold decisions to save the country’s football. 

Published in The News on Sunday, 31 March 2024

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