By Shahrukh Sohail & Muhammad Ajmal, Islamabad
Football; The game now evokes images of grassy pitches and European drama in most Pakistani fans. But behest to most, there is also a National Team struggling to make an impact in Asia. And there is one for Women too.
Although for proper Pakistani aficionados, The Shaheens are the main event, the Ladies have managed to make more of a dent on the International front and down to that achievement has been the influx of next-gen stars. Sana Mehmood is one of them and besides being an avid lover of the beautiful game, also captains her country alongside her regular duties at National Champions Young Rising Star (YRS) club.
Her story, like that of Brazilian star Marta, began at an early age, but only recently did she manage to come under the spotlight following an impressive display at club level.
“I basically started playing at school. I was involved with a number of sports and football was one of them. My school (Beaconhouse) had sports for girls and I was dying for some physical activity during the summer. Later, I was told about trials for Young Rising Stars in 2007 (YRS) and I got selected after attending them,” remembers Sana while exclusively speaking to FPDC.
“Before playing for YRS, we weren’t briefed on training, tactics or positions but after I joined the club I realized it was an amazing professional set-up. I really enjoyed the vision and the fact that I was being taught something new. As time went on, I gradually started to improve and YRS’ performances starting improving.”
After ensuring that her club won the Championship, Sana got a call-up for the National Team and impressed onlookers during the 2010 Women’s SAFF Cup in Bangladesh.
“The Women’s National Team has improved significantly. We reached the SAFF Cup semi-finals in 2010, although we struggled in the SAF Games. Coach Tariq Lutfi is also of the opinion that Women’s Football can progress faster than the Men’s side,” she added.
With a muscly built, the former Bahria alumni usually plies her trade in defence, but at the request of Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi, she moved into a more rounded-role just in front of the backline.
“My current position at YRS is sweeper. For Pakistan, I play higher up the field as a defensive midfielder as the coaches think my physique is strong and my defending skills are definitely my strong point.”
The PFF have regularly overlooked Women’s Football in terms of progress, but they did call up on Monika Staab of Germany to train the local footballers, something which played a very positive role in talent development at that time.
“At that time, I wasn’t personally involved with Football in 2007, but I do realize the importance of such a step. Monika would not have only been a role-model but a professional trainer too and this also shows that the PFF are serious in terms of their investment,” claimed Sana.
While the Federation’s efforts have seen the popularity of the game improve, the Pakistan skipper claims that there is still a long way to go in terms of domestic structure and the PFF must take appropriate measures in order to continue climbing the rankings.
“The League needs to change. Competition is still very low and we only get to play for a few months during the entire calendar year. The PFF should gather top performing clubs and let them compete against each other, so that the players can develop in terms of their abilities and skills.”
“While the PFF have improved their efforts, they let us down. They promised that further International tours and events would be played out if managed a win in the 2010 Women’s SAFF Cup. We reached the semi-finals and it was really sad to see the Federation back out.”
Along with her ample exposure with the National team, Sana has a number of other feathers in her cap, including a special stint in the United States as part of a cultural-exchange program that eventually persuaded to change her whole career path.
“However, we have had some highs in the past. We traveled to the US as part of a cultural attaché and witnessed football at all levels there. After seeing their efforts, I decided to pursue Development Studies using Sports as a medium to engage Pakistani women,” Mehmood was quoted as saying.
Although, the Pakistan Team is still it’s initial phase, Sana is confident about a bright future and also liked FootballPakistan’s idea of having foreign players in the squad for future competitions.
“Yes, that would be a great development. Foreign talents can help us improve in the short-term and I do appreciate FPDC’s efforts for this,” said Sana while signing off.