By Alam Zeb Safi, The News
Once again no surprise was seen in the Pakistan Premier Football League and Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) lifted their third straight and overall fourth title.
But, unlike the previous season, it was a relatively tough league. KRL confirmed their crown in the penultimate game of the 240-match marathon when they defeated Army 3-1.
Before this, KRL were crowned champions in 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons. KRL have now equalled WAPDA’s record of four titles. WAPDA clinched titles in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Army won it way back in 2005 and 2006.
The victory put KRL in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup 2014, the group stage of which will be held from May 1-11, followed by the final stage from September 22-28.
KRL finished as runners-up in the last edition in Kuala Lumpur last year when they went 0-1 down to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC in the final.
The AFC President’s Cup 2014 will be the last edition of the competition. The six teams which qualify for the 2014 AFC President’s Cup final stage will enter the 2015 AFC Cup play-offs. From 2015 onwards, centralised qualifiers will determine the six teams which will enter the AFC Cup play-offs.
KRL’s management plans to make one-month preparation for the challenging assignment with which they are now quite familiar as it will be their fourth appearance in the event.
KRL are expected to induct a few players ahead of the AFC President’s Cup. Since their key winger Mohammad Aadil has joined Kyrgyzstan’s club Dordoi Bishkek for one year, KRL need to reinforce their frontline, which did not click the way the management wanted it to this season.
Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) once again had to be content with the silver medal. They fought valiantly till the end, but were unlucky because their Nigerian striker Oludeyi Abayomi Sunday joined them only in the second half of the league owing to delay in visa process. Had KESC got his services for the whole league, it would have been a different story as Sunday played extremely well. There is a fair chance that his contract will be renewed for the next season. WAPDA, who had struggled in the last few seasons, showed a lot of improvement with their young lot and finished third.
Chaman’s Muslim FC, who had finished third last year, ended seventh this season. After having topped the Karachi round, they struggled throughout in Punjab, mainly due to injuries to many of their key players.
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) ended fourth, Army fifth and PIA sixth. PAF showed a lot of improvement under AFC Licence A coach Shehzad Anwar.
Army could have performed better had they got the services of their skipper Jaffar Khan who missed the season due to a serious knee injury. PIA played exceptionally well, which was quite unexpected because they were thought to be badly in need of fresh recruitment.
Afghan FC, resourceful National Bank of Pakistan and Karachi Port Trust narrowly escaped relegation. NBP had to struggle till the last game and were lucky to ultimately avert relegation.
Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited, Pak Afghan Clearing Agency, Faisalabad’s Lyallpur FC, Nushki’s Baloch FC, Navy and Habib Bank got relegated.
After ZTBL’s top authorities came to know that their team would go down to the second-tier league, they stopped them from playing any more matches. Thus they forfeited 13 matches which was against the rules. The team, which was formed by former ZTBL chief Zaka Ashraf, is likely to be disbanded.
Only 12 teams will compete in the next season, as per the decision of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). But quite a few people have said that the PFF should not have decided to remove six teams in one go. Had they done it gradually it would have been very effective.
Relegating six teams at a time may deprive a number of footballers of their jobs because some teams may be disbanded as has happened in the past with the sides of Allied Bank and Muslim Commercial Bank.
Several teams indulged in a system of give-and-take to save themselves from relegation, sources told me. It is not possible to prove this, but if a certain ailment exists the PFF should try to check it.
The schedule of the league was frequently changed, which damaged the cause of several title aspirants.
In the Lahore round, the venues were changed on many occasions. The teams did not know where they would play their next game.
Poor refereeing marred the whole affair and at certain stages it seemed that some teams were given favours.
The PFF’s decision to impose fine on those teams which played without a Licence B coach remained fruitless. Most of the head coaches hired by some outfits served only as dummies and others were seen handling the teams.
Limiting the league to Karachi and Lahore only put a lot of financial burden on some teams, especially those based in Balochistan. It is likely that the teams from that province will not agree to play all their home games in other cities in the next season.
The hectic schedule gave a lot of trouble to the players. Many were unable to recover from injuries, which harmed the cause of their teams. It would not be wrong to call it a killer league because of the tense schedule.
Unless major changes are brought in the texture of the event, Pakistan’s football will not improve.
The coaching standard of the clubs is not good enough to produce quality players. When a talented player from a club goes to the national camp, it is Pakistan’s coach who has to remove the basic flaws in his technique. That is why the national coach always takes a lot of time in preparing his lot for international assignments.
If the PFF wants to improve its league it will have to make it professional. Induction of more foreign players will also improve its quality.
The prize money of the league should be at least Rs20 million. It would compel the participating teams to invest in their players and prepare them well for the marathon.