by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The turnout wasn’t the one Mohammad Essa expected. At most, a 100 turned up. Yet, the former Pakistan football team captain who is leading the movement for the formation of a national players association was undeterred.
“This is not politicised at all,” Essa told reporters when asked if he was being backed by one faction of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
“We’re not with the group led by Faisal Saleh Hayat or with the court-appointed administrator of the PFF,” he added.
The Hayat faction is backed by the world’s football governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) but isn’t recognised by the Lahore High Court (LHC).
The PFF has been mired in crisis ever since it split into two factions in the lead-up to its presidential elections in June last year after a full-blown dispute over the controversial Punjab Football Association (PFA) elections in April.
With the two groups — one led by incumbent president Hayat and the other by contender and vice-president Zahir Ali Shah — heading into the polls, it saw the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervene and order a stay on the elections.
The Hayat group however went on to hold the elections and that has resulted in a drawn-out battle against the honourable court which appointed retired Justice Asad Munir as PFF Administrator till the issue is resolved.
FIFA, meanwhile, has backed Hayat and has given him two years to conduct fresh elections.
Well-placed sources, however, have told Dawn that Essa has been offered an assistant coach job with the national team and a post in the AFC if the Hayat group is recognised locally.
“This is not about the post,” Essa told when asked if it was true. “Both factions of the PFF have their flaws and we’re not with anyone. This movement is only to protect the rights of the players who are suffering due to no football action during the last year.”
Alongside Essa was Zabe Khan, the former sports head of K-Electric — the club Essa plays for domestically.
Sources have told Dawn that Zabe has been offered the national team manager job, along with a post in the AFC, if the player movement succeeds in keeping Hayat in power.
Zabe, however, said he was only there to “advise the movement and help it take its mission forward”.
Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a member of the Hayat faction and the controversially-elected PFA president in a closed-door poll which started the PFF crisis, had recently posted on social media about giving the local players association voting rights in the PFF Congress.
There was also talk on social media about getting the movement recognised by FIFPro — the worldwide representative organisation for professional football players.
Essa said he hadn’t spoken to Sardar Naveed but acknowledged he can get the movement “affiliated with the AFC” whenever he desires — an indication that the continental body had given its backing to the Essa-led body.
Essa attended the AFC Grassroots Conference in Kuala Lumpur in March this year — a trip arranged for by the Hayat faction.
Officials and supporters of the Hayat faction have regularly attended AFC and FIFA conferences and meetings despite the football team being out of action.
With politics having hurt the game in the country for the last year and a half, a politicised players association would only add to football’s woes.
“We aren’t political at all,” Essa reiterated. “I can promise we will never get political.
“The focus of the movement is to help players get their rights. With no football in the country, several departments are closing their teams. We are trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen and the players don’t lose their livelihood.
“Pakistan has also missed out on several international tournaments which has hampered its FIFA ranking. We don’t want our team to fall further behind.”
In the hours leading up to the formal announcement for the formation of the players association, Essa had arrived at the local press club with almost 100 other former and current footballers in a protest march from Lyari.
But before the protest march began, Essa lost the support of former FIFA referee Ahmed Jan.
Jan had planned to come with Essa to the march, believing it was a fair movement, but told Dawn that he decided to back out after meeting Essa late on Thursday night.
“He told me that the AFC has a keen interest in the protest,” Jan said. “Hayat is being backed by the AFC and Essa is towing his line.”