By Dr. Gauhar Mehmood Azeem, Editor, Lahore
Ever since the inception of Zesh Rehman into the Pakistan national football team in 2005, the debate of ‘foreign based’ footballers vs. Pakistani footballers has been rife in the football circle of Pakistan.
Players such as Zesh Rehman, Adnan Ahmed, Atif Bashir, Yousuf Butt, Hassan Bashir, Muhammad Ali have performed brilliantly whenever they have put on the green jersey but still the local voices including Muhammad Essa, Mujahidullah, have constantly questioned their selection into the National setup. Even Tariq Lutfi and former captain Jaffar Khan have had the same views in the past.
‘Commitment’ of foreign based players is what Tariq Lutfi questioned in the media before becoming the National Team Coach in 2011. It is easy to lay the blame on a group of foreign trained players to hide failings of local player development in Pakistan. He went on to use every single one of the available players from abroad during that short stint.
Muhammad Essa while being a legend for the national team for scoring 9 goals in his long and illustrious career as the lead striker, has long questioned ‘the heart’ of the players for not attending camps weeks in advance of International commitments for the National Team. Knowing perfectly well that professional clubs have FIFA rules by which they are obliged to release footballers only a few days before a FIFA sanctioned game.
But we’ve just seen a romantic change in the football scenario in Pakistan. Muhammad Adil and now KaleemUllah, two formerly local based and established international stars for Pakistan are moving abroad to play professionally.
Will these voices stop now that players formally local based will not be able to attend long camps, that no professional club allows its players to take part in?
Will living many thousands of miles away from Pakistan and clubs pushing for results lead to a ‘lack of commitment’ vibe towards Adil and Kaleemullah?
The moving abroad and becoming ‘foreign bases’ is a great success for these players personally and a hope for the Pakistani youth. It will be great for the National team as well. For now, criticism on foreign based players will also include two very dear footballers of the local football circle. And finally Pakistan will be able to move forward and be like Afghanistan, Philippines and many other international sides where the best XI takes the pitch regardless of the locations of their club locations.
But we can never rule out it becoming a case of 2 foreign based footballers being treated differently to all others. After all one is from Chaman, the other is from Bahawalpur but the others just have Pakistani parents, Pakistani passports, Pakistani NIC’, Pakistani home towns, and even a Pakistani birth for some.
Muhammad Adil and Kaleemullah were the two best local based footballers we had in Pakistan. But considering they are foreign based now, their skill set is arguably a little less than, or close to that of Hassan Bashir and Muhammad Ali. They are now the 5th and 6th best foreign based footballers Pakistan can call upon behind Zesh Rehman, Nabil Aslam, Hassan Bashir, and Yousaf Butt.
Can you call them to the team and not call the others? A great test to the credibility of some Pakistani football administrators, commentators and experts beckons. Exciting times ahead.