PFF NC must make its next 9-months plan clear

PFF NC must make its next 9-months plan clear

FootballPakistan.Com Editorial

The PFF NC has now achieved what many would say is its main target, another extension which will take its tenure till December 2024. An organisation beleaguered with financial issues for nearly a year has brought a halt to domestic football and any hope of its revival now long forgotten.

Since May 2023, the PFF NC has been unable to secure any regular funding for the sport, be it men’s or women’s competitions, national youth and senior teams or any development work.

The only exception was the Men’s National Team making history in FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign vs Cambodia in October, and securing 6 group matches. Turns out, FIFA is solely funding these Pakistan team matches and nothing else.

FIFA and PFF NC have not made public the reason why the funding is being withheld. Rumours swirl in local football circles that it’s either to do with NC’s alleged poor financial controls, accountability of previous funding or FIFA tightening the screws on NC to focus on elections and not on actual football activity.

Due to no funding, the PFF has been unable to pay match fees and daily allowances owed to both men’s and women’s senior team players for their involvements in matches from April till September 2023 as well as the U17 and U19 boys’ teams which took part in the SAFF Championships.

It is nearly coming to a year with some dues still, with growing inflation in the country and lack of domestic football, players are already struggling to make ends meet.

The PFF must also clarify to the fans if it is unable to get the funding released, explain the reason and if the problem is to persist for their remaining tenure then they might as well pack up and go home.

Pakistani football cannot take 9 more months of inactivity, players development has already suffering immensely and 10-day long camps before international matches against high quality opponents just doesn’t work.

PFF NC’s MoU with the Saudi Football Federation also failed to materialise as the NC was unable to arrange any training camp or games in the Kingdom this January because of lack of funds. It is also evident the federation has lost corporate confidence as it struggles to attract sponsors even for the national teams.

Whilst a domestic league is unlikely to start anytime soon given the logistical challenges and long summer approaching, the PFF could conduct the remaining phase of the National Challenge Cup with updated format to give teams more matches. It could host the games in Karachi where there are stadiums with domestic-worthy floodlights. Lack of official domestic football is already causing resentment.

Whilst the standard of football is unlikely to improve overnight, the match practice would do players a lot of good and an opportunity for Stephen Constantine to see them in game situations. However, the PFF must work toward resuming the league after summer because the players need competitive football for a full season. Training camps ahead of a FIFA window only inhibits their actual potential.

2024 can be another busy international year for Pakistan’s youth teams and women’s NT if the PFF gets its act together. Last year U16s and U19s impressed in the SAFF age group competitions and this year ‘s AFC U17 and U20 qualifiers await. But as of now there are no plans on the horizon on how the PFF will prepare these youth teams or if they even have resources to take part.

The Women’s National Team has also gone 6 months without an international match and there’s also no domestic competition for them either. Women’s NT is to play SAFF Women’s Championship at some point this year and their preparation must begin ASAP. At the time of writing, the April FIFA window for women’s internationals is wasted, just like February one. Next window would be May and one can hope the PFF arranges some games for the women’s team before SAFF Women’s Championship.

A National Women’s Championship is also critical to at least see young talent come through because the PFF had already failed to make age group girls teams due to lack of talent identification. Also, worth noting is the winners of this women’s championship also gets a voting right in the PFF Congress per the 2015 PFF Constitution, under which the NC is supposed to conduct PFF elections.

The last fully completed women’s championship was held in 2019-20, won by Pakistan Army. The 2021 edition was disrupted midway because of a hostile takeover of PFF House that caused a 15-month FIFA ban on Pakistan.

Again, the PFF must clear all outstanding dues of all national team players and any support staff with Eid approaching and the current financial climate in Pakistan, such paid dues can be a huge relief for them. It is their hard-earned money, and the federation must make all efforts to address this.

If FIFA is still adamant on not providing funding, the PFF must get funding from elsewhere to at least clear pending dues. Whilst the political dramas continue to play out with people fighting for their agendas to takeover PFF, it’s the footballers who continue to suffer in all this.

Lastly, the PFF must get its act together and stop causing international embarrassment through such a poor-quality broadcast of FIFA World Cup qualifiers that Pakistan has hosted. Media and fans were left baffled at the poor broadcasting done for the Tajikistan (21 November) and Jordan (21 March) games at Jinnah Stadium. Tajikistan and Jordan fans made fun of the low-quality production and camerawork. Saudis will also take offence if their team is shown in such light on 6 June when they visit Islamabad.

With just over 2 months to go the PFF must make sure Jinnah Stadium – owned and operated by the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) – is ready to host the game under lights due to the June summer heat. It must also block book the venue a few weeks prior, so no other events take place to sabotage the fixture, and the broadcast quality and commentary must be of international standard. We are set to host the heavyweights of Asian football, and they deserve to be treated with such respect.

Pakistan, the lowest ranked Asian team in this round of qualifiers, is expectedly out of contention for reaching Round Three and will have to make do with the 2027 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers that begin in March 2025.

After the June matches vs Saudi Arabia and away at Tajikistan (11 June), Pakistan will have the September-October-November FIFA windows to play friendlies. The national team is still young that has gone through a baptism of fire against significantly higher ranked opponents inflicting one-sided defeats.

If the PFF NC is expected to complete the PFF elections process before the December deadline given by FIFA, it must also avail these windows and arrange friendlies against teams Pakistan can actually beat to gain confidence and stability if a credible team is to be prepared for the Asian Cup qualifiers.

Getting the government on board to revive a Quaid-e-Azam International Gold Cup for hosting international friendlies in one window would also do a world of good.

But again, it’s all down to money. If the PFF NC is able to secure release of withheld FIFA funds or works on getting alternative sources of funding to arrange domestic football and international matches for the men’s, women’s and age group national teams in 2024, they can at least be able to salvage whatever credibility and integrity they have.

Will they be able to? That’s a question only the PFF NC should be answering.