By Editorial Staff
Recently, it seems that Pakistan skipper Jaffar Khan has clearly put a spell on coach Zavisa. It’s almost as if his tantrums and mid tournament retirements are all forgiven, while his continuous errors are ignored as he is an automatic pick due to wearing the captain’s armband.
Pakistan have gone and tried various other goalkeepers and despite them showing promise the coaches have repeatedly turned to Jaffar for reasons best known to them. Jaffar first made his debut in 2001 for Pakistan and has gone on to win 2 South Asian Games (U23) titles, first at home in 2004 (Islamabad) and 2nd title in Sri Lanka in 2006.
Jaffar, despite his obvious lack of height, has managed to hold his own over the last decade apart from 12 months in 2007-08 when he had to go to Congo on a UN Peacekeeping mission which kept him out of the Pakistan National Team.
During his absence Pakistan lost 7-0 against Iraq and goalkeeper Muhammad Shahzad was discarded forever from the National team scene, whereas an amateur goal keeper from UK Iltaf Ahmed managed to keep clean sheet on debut in the return leg and became a fan favourite.
However, as it is with Pakistan national team coaches and their goalkeeping staff, everyone has their local favorite Iltaf was benched in the first two AFC Challenge Cup Qualifier games only to lose 7-1 against Sri Lanka and then get a chance against Guam.
Pakistan continued to try and experiment with various local goalkeepers such as Amir Gul and Bilal Rafique, however it was Iltaf’s failure to show up for the 2008 SAFF Cup that resulted in his Pakistan career coming to an end.
In 2009, new coach George Kottan put faith in Amir Gul while Jaffar was nursing an injury but he made his comeback in 2009 SAFF Cup as a strong Pakistan side looked to finally challenge for their maiden title.
But they were dealt a massive blow in the opening game against Sri Lanka, when a rash tackle from Jaffar inside the box resulted in a penalty for the Lankans to score and subsequently Pakistan lost the game 1-0.
Afterwards, Jaffar was dropped and Amir was brought back in, as Kottan looked to get their campaign back on track. Sadly, Pakistan failed to score against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka’s goal was the only time their defence was breached. However, despite such heroics, Jaffar’s gifted penalty eventually became the reason for their exit.
Following his dropping from the squad during the tournament, the veteran goalkeeper created a huge mess mid-way through as he announced his retirement because he had been dropped for the game. This resulted in fellow team mate and captain Essa hanging up his boots as well and ultimately took a major toll on team moral and the changing room environment, which one could argue hindered their chances of progression.
So apart from retirement midway through a tournament and leading a rebellion against the coach it is also important to see how Jaffar has performed since his recall in 2010 Asian Games.
Called up by Akhtar Mohiuddin alongside Denmark based goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, it was expected the youngster would be given the nod to shine, however Yousuf’s registration was not accepted by the organisation committee and therefore he was unable to take part whereas Akhtar’s inclusion of Jaffar meant Pakistan was unable to include Adnan Ahmed who was at the time playing in Iran as the 3 overage slots went to Jaffar Khan, Samar Ishaq and Atif Bashir.
Pakistan were thumped 6-0 by Thailand in the opening with Jaffar being at fault for couple of the goals and his performance remained suspect in the next 2 games too. However, he was not dropped after conceding 6 goals whereas Shahzad had been dropped for conceding 7 against Iraq and Amir Gul for conceding 7 against Sri Lanka.
The AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in 2011 saw Tariq Lutfi return to the senior team and his coaching staff, especially GK coach Aslam Khan preferred Jaffar once again (as captain) having labelled Yousuf Butt as lacking commitment and another youngster Muhammad Umar making the bench despite his exceptional display at U23 level.
Pakistan were comprehensively beaten by Turkmenistan and India and failed to Qualify. The year 2011 was full of opportunities and Pakistan faced Bangladesh in the 2014 World Cup Pre-Qualifying round, but the Green Kickers played on an awful waterlogged pitch and were thrashed 3-0.
The defensive performance was abysmal but it was Jaffar’s errors that once again proved to be fatal as he was at fault for 2 of the 3 goals, with simply going under his hands and other he couldn’t reach to. However there were mitigating circumstances in his favour with a waterlogged pitch but as a goalkeeper those are your bread and butter saves.
In 2011, the SAFF Cup saw Pakistan bring in Serbian Zavisa as Lutfi was shown the door due to repeated failures, however Lutfi had left his mark as he picked the squad for Zavisa due to a late appointment and Jaffar was once again retained as Captain. By now Saqib Hanif had been promoted to the bench while Denmark based Yousuf Butt struggled to get his visa to India in time to join the team.
Here Jaffar went without much trouble as Pakistan stuck to their guns and defended well and the opposition didn’t ask many questions. He made good saves and led the team well but Pakistan once again failed to make it out of the group.
2012 saw Pakistan only play 1 FIFA international friendly, but prior to that game against Singapore Pakistan faced a select eleven of Singapore U23 and U21. Pakistan lost the game 1-0, and after a while it was once again the goalkeeper at fault as a simple shot from 30yards out went straight through his hands in into the net. He was replaced by Jahangir Khan while the young Saqib Hanif who had done well at U22 level was ignored.
This trip also saw Denmark based goalkeeper Yousuf Butt finally join up with the senior team for the first time. Despite Jaffar’s howler against the select eleven Zavisa gave him the nod ahead of Yousuf against the Singapore, Jaffar’s luck of bad fortune continued as he made another howler, not collecting the ball and letting it slide under him only for the player to follow it up and score the goal. He was taken off at half time and Yousuf Butt was given debut, both goalkeepers conceded 2 goals each.
This February, Pakistan played 4 FIFA international friendly matches, two against Nepal and two against Maldives. This trip saw another change in back up option for goalkeeper as Saqib Hanif replaced Jahangir Khan. Pakistan beat Nepal in both games with same 1-0 score line and Jaffar wasn’t too troubled. The coach saw no reason to give other keepers any minutes; hence time to experiment was wasted on the Nepal trip.
In Maldives, the opposition was tougher and they tested the Green Shirts on a regular basis with Jaffar doing a good job until he failed to leave his line and let a cross through which was headed in, albeit Pakistan rescued a late draw in injury time.
With 3 games gone and Zavisa sticking with his captain, the other 2 goalkeepers were getting frustrated when they both are technically better than Jaffar, Saqib winning the league title with KRL and Yousuf playing at a much higher standard in Denmark.
Many thought one of the reserve keepers would start the 2nd game against Maldives only to see Jaffar leading out once again. The nature of the game once again was same, Maldives asking questions on regular basis, Jaffar did well by keeping them out until 59th min when a shot from distance went it and it was his own doing.
The Army man failed to jump to reach the ball which just required a tip over the bar and here it could be argued that his height was exposed, as taller goalkeepers sitting on the bench could have reached that with ease. His howler saw Yousuf Butt come on for 25 minutes, but with Pakistan chasing the game high up the pitch, the defence was left exposed and the visitors conceded two more to lose 3-0.
So in order to prepare and experiment new players Zavisa gave Yousuf 70 minutes in 6 matches and Saqib returned home without any playing time. It is mind boggling how Jaffar after repeated errors that cost the team can retain his spot and that too as a captain which pretty much assures him starting eleven.
Apart from his performance, his recent statement publically opposing the inclusion of overseas players has created division within the team which does not bode well for the future. As a captain he should be responsible with his statements. Not to forget his mid tournament retirement in 2009 with Pakistan failing at SAFF cup and George Kottan soon losing his job.
It is also hard to understand the reasoning behind Zavisa’s decision to persist with Jaffar when there are better options available. Jaffar is a poor shot stopper as proved again and again with his inability to deal with long range shots and free kicks.
Jaffar also lacks the ability to start the play from his defence as his simple style of punting it long results in Pakistan losing possession and chasing the shadows. Another issue with Jaffar and other local goalkeepers is the ability to communicate effectively with their defence and organise them which is something Yousuf Butt very good at due to his development in Denmark. These weaknesses have been there with Jaffar for over a decade now and he won’t be improving those anytime soon, but his errors as crucial they are could be fatal to Pakistan’s hopes of qualification next month.
Another reason given for Jaffar’s repeated selection despite his club performing poorly in PPFL for the last 4/5 seasons is that his close proximity to Aslam Khan, another due to both of them being Pakhtoons.
Other argument is that Jaffar being from Army which holds huge influence in Pakistani football, because there is hardly any other player from Army is in the Pakistan squad due to their poor domestic showing. Whereas other goalkeeping coaches having gone with Amir Gul or Bilal Rafique in the past.
Saqib Hanif must be wondering what he has to do in order to get playing despite winning the PPFL with KRL, representing his side in AFC President Cup and putting in a good display during the AFC u22 Championship Qualifiers. Whilst Yousuf Butt must also be pondering over what he has to do to command a berth in the starting eleven, despite playing in Danish 3rd Division, a standard where likes of Jaffar Khan perhaps won’t even be entertained for a trial.