If Shahjehan built the Taj Mahal to display his love for Mumaz Mahal, Adam Jama Waberi from Djibouti has built the Gulshan Soccer Academy in Karachi to denote his love for Pakistan. Waberi is nothing but revered in Karachi’s footballing circles: from Adam Jama, he has become Adam Jee, the godfather and mentor of many young footballers in the city trying to make a mark.
“People used to say to me, ‘You look Makrani, why don’t you go to Balochistan and apply for citizenship from there? Maybe you’ll get Pakistani nationality.’ But I never did that, I am still a guest in this country,” says Adam Jee.
Waberi left home in 1999 to pursue a doctorate in psychology, but in his new adopted home, an old passion was rekindled: football.
“At the time, I had no plans of coaching or staying in Pakistan for so long,” he says, before describing how he started playing as a winger at the age of six. By the time he was 10, he was the captain of his school team. Afterwards, he wore the captain’s armband for his city’s U-13 team and also toured other East African countries.
Children in other countries study as well as play sports professionally. Maintaining balance between the two is the key
In Karachi, Adam Jee became a sought-after player. He played for Baloch Union Club, but it was the only club where he has played with a contract.
“I have played for Karachi Police, Sindh Police and other departments too. But almost everywhere, I was told that my being a foreigner prevented their signing a formal contract with me. But I could play on a per-match basis if I wanted to,” recalls Adam Jee.
“One of my friends, Abu Bakr, was playing for the Karachi Police under a contract. When I said you have precedent, they told me that the policy had changed and that I could not be signed under a contract.”
Away from club football, when he practiced, young men would gather around to see his skills and tricks. With him having a glowing reputation on the circuit, they saw through him a glimmer of hope that he might teach them how to play soccer. Adam Jee eventually succumbed to their constant pestering and started teaching football to kids, albeit in small gatherings.
These little sessions were the makings of a lasting affair: Adam Jee began coaching professionally on February 22, 2006, when Gulshan Soccer Academy first opened its doors.
“That coaching craze consumed my mind, I couldn’t leave it,” says the coach. He has a family settled back home in Djibouti, whom he visits every now and then. But Gulshan Soccer Academy became his new life.
“In the beginning, I had around 12 to 13 students in the academy. All of them belonged to different areas of Gulshan. The academy did not have its own transport nor did any coaching staff there have a car. I’d drive the kids to play away matches in an open-top Suzuki pickup,” the coach recalls. “The kids from Gulshan are not used to this kind of travelling. It was awkward for them but they had to. Now the academy owns a bus, it is a far more convenient ride.”
Adam Jee has adopted coaching as a long-term ambition
But establishing the academy was a difficult task.
Securing a ground to play on regularly was the first challenge. Waberi approached the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology with the offer of coaching their football team for free, if they’d let him have the ground adjacent to the university for his academy.
“At the time, the ground was just a forest with Babul trees and wild bushes. My students and coaching staff cleaned the place with their bare hands. Our footballs used to get punctured everyday because of the Babul trees, and so I’d have to go all the way to Lighthouse to get them mended since we could not afford buying new balls,” says Adam Jee.
At the beginning, the admission fee for the academy was just Rs200, with a nominal monthly fee. Later, a monthly fee of Rs50 was fixed for members.
After doing all the hard work, things came crashing down when authorities took the place away from him and named it the Karachi Hockey Association (KHA) Club. It is now used as a marriage lawn.
“There were days when I’d think of shutting down the academy altogether. We had no place to play and the obstacles were too many. All I used to get was a pat on the back, that being a foreigner, I was doing a good job. That’s it,” says the veteran African coach.
Adam Jee shifted to two more grounds, before Olympian Iftikhar Syed gave him a permanent place to run his academy — in Gulshan, near Disco Bakery.
“Olympian Iftikhar Syed has played a huge part in our success. He lent us his ground, he gave us the place for administrative work, he supported us through thick and thin,” describes the coach. Iftikhar’s ground has a couple of futsal courts while Gulshan Soccer Academy plays on a grassy ground nearby at a fixed rent.
When it comes to the academy, the veteran coach is adamant that learning football should be considered an education. “Pakistanis have cricket in their blood; they achieve milestones at the highest level playing the game. But they do not have such abilities as far as football is concerned, therefore Pakistani kids need to get an education in football,” says the fellow from East Africa, who is also a level ‘C’ qualified coach.
The purpose of the academy is to of course train young players, with the more talented ones being promoted to the Gulshan Soccer Club. For kids coming into the academy, there are local heroes and role models whose example they can follow.
Securing a ground to play on regularly was the first challenge
The admission fee charged by the academy today is Rs2,500 while the monthly fee is Rs1,500. Sometimes, parents donate money — this helps in managing expenses too. But the cherry on top is jersey sales: the academy prints jerseys of the best Gulshan Soccer Club players and sells them.
“Jerseys of local stars, whom the players see playing in front of them, are sold much quicker as compared to jerseys of global icons such as Messi and Ronaldo,” explains Adam Jee.
At the academy, Adam Jee is assisted by two qualified coaches: Yasir Arafat and Mudassar.
Arafat is the assistant coach at the academy and also at the club. He is the only qualified category ‘B’ coach in Karachi’s central district. Mudassar is the head coach of the club and assists Adam Jee at the academy. He is a qualified level ‘C’ coach too, and is among the 300 top coaches from all over Pakistan to have completed the FIFA MA course. Both coaches are all praise for the Pakistan Football Federation, whose sponsorships (on Adam Jee’s recommendations) had allowed them various opportunities to complete coaching courses.
With qualified coaches on board, the academy prepares proper diet plans for its students according to their strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and performance. But unfortunately, they cannot implement those plans with complete authority.
“It is not possible for us to force every player to follow their diet plans exactly since we do not have a hostel where they can serve only the recommended food,” says Arafat, who holds the expertise in diet planning as the qualified level ‘B’ coach. “I can just keep on repeating what an individual should be eating, how much rest he needs.”
But while the coaches cannot keep a hawkish eye on diet, the Gulshan Soccer Academy is extremely rigid on its stance regarding the use of tobacco and alcohol. It is clearly written on their admission form that the applicant cannot consume any sort of tobacco in any form and the management has zero tolerance about it.
In a span of about nine years, the academy and Adam Jee, in particular, have achieved a lot.
In 2010, they took part in the local District Football Championship for the first time and remained unbeaten throughout the tournament. The only time an opposing team was able to kick the ball past their goalkeeper was during a penalty shootout. The academy walked off as the champion despite all top clubs in the district competing in the tournament.
No one in the soccer fraternity of Karachi had heard of them before that. Nobody had ever thought that the ‘Burgers’ will go head-to-head with teams from traditional footballing bastions Malir and Lyari, and dominate them. There was many a shocked eye to see a young club lifting the trophy.
“It was my biggest achievement so far,” says Adam Jee excitedly. “This year, the tournament resumed after five years, but we successfully defended our district championship title.”
For Mudassar, the credit of successive triumphs lands at the feet of Adam Jee. “He is different from other coaches in that he is not just a coach for the boys; he is also a father figure. For me, Adam Jee is not just a coach; he is like a friend, a guardian and my well-wisher,” he says.
“Adam Jee knows what his students are going through when they have their exams, he understands their problems and does not pressure them in those days or at times when they might be busy with something. Still, he is a strict coach and does not allow his students to take leave without genuine reason,” narrates Mudassar. “If parents ask the academy to give their children leave for a relative’s wedding, the coach doesn’t allow it. He works passionately and expects his students to be as passionate about the game.”
Adam Jee believes that parents shouldn’t shy away from their parents pursuing a career in football. “Getting an education is tough in this country and parents have made it even harder. Children in other countries study as well as play sports professionally. Maintaining balance between the two is the key,” he argues.
A skilful soccer player who played for different clubs and departments in his younger days, Adam Jee has adopted coaching as a long-term ambition. “My dream is to coach the Pakistan national team one day,” says the East African.
Coaching is not a source of income for him but it is surely the reason for his stay in this country. He owns a small business that is doing more than enough to make ends meet. But would he have wanted more? Did he ever want to play for Pakistan?
“Once my friend Abu and I met one of the members of the national coaching staff,” Adam Jee replies with a recollection. “We were both foreigners of course, but knowing that we were also the best players at the time and everyone knew us, Abu asked a member of the PFF, what if we got citizenship? Would they be able to don Pakistan colours? The member of the coaching staff bluntly replied, ‘The best local players here don’t get a chance to play for Pakistan since influential people try to induct their own relatives and friends in the team. Don’t ever think of playing for Pakistan at the highest level,” he told them.
It was a bitter truth, but Adam Jama’s story had just started. After all, his Taj Mahal was yet to be built.
The writer tweets @ArslanShkh