Umaid Wasim – DAWN
LAHORE: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) manager Ayaz Butt is a man on a mission.
After seeing his side secure a third consecutive Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) title, Ayaz has set his sights on winning the last edition of the AFC President’s Cup.
“This year we want to win it,” Ayaz told Dawn on Saturday referring to Asia’s third-tier club competition which will be scrapped next year. We came very close to winning it last season and it still hurts that we couldn’t win it.”
The KRL became the first team from Pakistan to reach the final of a club competition where they lost 1-0 to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC.
This season’s competition carries extra significance for Ayaz as if his side are able to advance to the final stage, they will go into the playoffs for the AFC Cup – the continent’s second-tier event – the following season.
“This is our best chance to win an international trophy,” Ayaz said. “Even if we qualify for the AFC Cup, it will be a tougher competition but in terms of exposure it will do a great deal for Pakistan football.”
For Ayaz, who made the team on the request of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan in 1995, an Asian title would be the pinnacle of a career which has seen the KRL dominate Pakistan football for the last three years.
“This is the first and last club for me,” Ayaz informed. “My loyalties with the KRL cannot be defined in words. It’s more than just a team for me and my desire is for us to be recognised internationally.”
Just the thought of playing in the AFC Cup makes Ayaz ecstatic. But he realizes there is a need to reinforce the squad in order to perform at that level.
“Our higher management has been very supportive over the last few years but to compete at international level, we’ll be needing more support,” he remarked.
“First of allm we need to hold onto our current squad and for that the management has to offer them permanent jobs and give them incentives to keep up their current performance.
“Secondly, the management then has to give us a free hand for induction of new players who will improve the squad. For that, we might also need a few foreign professional footballers.”
Ayaz admitted that losing star winger Mohammad Adil – who became the first footballer from the country to sign a professional contract when he joined Kyrgyz giants FC Dordoi – was a big blow.
“We need players like Adil because he was a match-winner,” he said. “He makes a difference whenever he plays. So we’ll see if we can find an able replacement for him.”
Ayaz added that next season his side will have to improve further if they are to maintain their dominance in the local game.
“Other sides are improving,” he said. “This season the title fight was the closest we’ve seen in years so of course we cannot afford to relax.”