FPDC Editorial Staff:
Lower ranked football nations in Asia in recent years have turned to their overseas diaspora to find talented footballers in order to compete with the regional powers and other emerging nations. This has come as an alternative to those countries who have seen their football being neglected for decades by corrupt and inept management which cannot improve in short or medium term. Countries that have used this approach from the emerging nations are Palestine, Pakistan, Philippines, and Afghanistan whilst new teams such as Guam and East Timor are also roping in players from all corners of the world.
The established powerhouses of Asian football such as Iran recruited German born Ferydoon Zandi for the 2006 World Cup and currently include former Germany U21 player Ashkan Dejagah, former Holland U19 striker Reza Ghoochannejhad, Sweden-born Omid Nazari, and only recently German-born goalkeeper Daniel Davari for Team Melli. Goes to show that despite having one of the best domestic leagues in Asia, Iran has increasingly sought to get the best professional Iranian talent in Europe to give Carlos Queiroz’s side that extra bit of quality and help re-establish their continental supremacy.
Lebanon have also called upon foreign born and bases Lebanese players such as Abbas Hassan (former Sweden U21s) and Norway-based Adnan Haider (former Norway U19s).
The story of Asian minnows is of a different nature. Where likes of Iran add the overseas players to further their team’s abilities in line with their existing talent based at home, the minnows of Asian football like Philippines and Afghanistan have gone all out on recruiting maximum numbers of foreign based footballers who now are core of their team. For Philippines even at some stage the entire starting eleven are overseas born players; Phil-Fors as they are now known.
Philippines include likes of Jerry Lucena (Ebsjerg, Denmark) Paul Mulders (ADO Den Haag, Holland) Stephen Shrock, (Hoffenheim, Germany) Roland Muller (MSV Duisburg, Germany), Dennis Cagara (Karlsruher, Germany) and Neil Ethridge (Fulham, England) are few to name that Azkals have recruited. These players took Philippines to 3rd place finish in AFC Challenge Cup and are now in the semi finals of AFF Suzuki Cup.
For Pakistan the concept of overseas born players came into action in summer 2005 when a German-based Pakistani football enthusiast Malik Riaz Hai Naveed, operating a website www.footballpakistan.com dedicated to the game in Pakistan, brought striker Usman Gondal – then a youth player at Leicester City FC – to the attention of the PFF. Usman played against India in the 2005 friendly series at home. He was followed by Pakistan’s biggest recruit Zeshan Rehman – then at EPL side Fulham – making his debut in 2005 SAFF Cup in Karachi where he helped take Pakistan to the semi finals under the Bahraini coach Salman Sharida. The trend has continued with players based in UK, Denmark, Norway and Australia turning up for the Greenshirts since 2005. The likes of Atif Bashir, Adnan Ahmed, Shabir Khan et al. firmly established themselves as senior team stalwarts.
Another team to utilize its diaspora is Palestine who have recruited players from Europe, other Arab countries, and even farfetched areas such as South American countries of Chile and Argentina that are home to a reasonable Palestinian diaspora.
The quality of players recruited by Palestine is not too far behind with many of their player featuring in many premier European divisions. Those include Imad Zatar (Åtvidabergs, Sweden) Omar Jarun (Charleroi, Belgium), Alexis Norambuena (Jagiellonia Białystok, Poland), Hani Naboulse (Lyngby, Denmark) whilst few other such as Dani Schahin of Fortuna Dusseldorf, Germany and the Sharbini brother from Croatia are being lined up for future events. Afghanistan are not far behind in terms of recruiting their players which include Qays Shayesteh who has played in Dutch Eredivise for Heracles Almelo, Belal Arzou of Asker in Norway and Djalaudin Sherityar currently playing in Bahrain having previously played in Germany and Cyprus.
Recent changes in coaching staff at Guam and East Timor teams have made coaches scout the globe and recruit players from places such as Brazil, USA and neighbouring countries. Reason being local talent at is not good enough even to compete with regional powers of East Asia let alone continental powerhouses.
Afghanistan, a war torn country which was forced to abandon football under the Taliban, has now returned to International action and has its squad dominated by players based in Germany and other European countries. Whilst many of these countries recruit players born abroad, majority of the Afghan players fled as youngsters to seek refuge after the 2001 invasion.
Even the more ‘established’ SAFF region teams have taken a liking to foreign-based talent. Bangladesh’s Dutch coach Lodewijk de Kruif has also shown interest in recruiting foreign-based players for the Bengal Tigers and recently took a trip to UK for finding players of Bangladeshi origin in the lower leagues similar to former West Ham United academy graduate Anwar Uddin. India has also joined the line after years of reluctance by recruiting Indo-Japanese player Arata Izumi for the national team. One would also expect AIFF to make moves for Indian-origin players in Europe as well with the passage of time.
But for Pakistan the country has really not welcomed the idea of foreign based footballers with open arms hence it has not managed to achieve the success likes Philippines, Afghanistan and Palestine have.
Pakistan has certain players with top league experience in Europe who bring flair and quality while some with lower league experience bring grit and determination which should be utilised properly to form the best squad and not be intimidated by the big name recruits of rivals.
The success of overseas players with these teams is clear as Palestine made it into the finals of AFC Challenge Cup and continue to improve in the WAFF Championship whereas Afghanistan made it to the final of SAFF Championship only to go down to 10 men and lose to India. Getting to final of SAFF Championship is something Pakistan has never managed in the nearly 20 year history of the tournament, although Pakistan did win 4 SAF Games football titles which fall in U23 category and hold no International value in terms of ranking.
The quality of players amongst the so called minnows is improving with multi dimensional development in their football at grassroots and league football totally opposite is happening in Pakistan. Few years ago Philippines was ranked nearly 200 and now they are in the 140s whilst Pakistan has gone from 150 in 2006 to 180 purely due to lack of ambition and will to play more matches in order to improve.