Mohammad Shahnawaz, Senior Editor, England
What Diego Maradona said regarding Argentine FA and its comparison to Pakistani football has upset some people. The social media scene was active with those expressing their outrage and those who appreciated that Maradona at-least knew Pakistan had a football team.
I came across a story on how Maradona didn’t know anything about Pakistani football and there was no need to get carried away with the comments made, referring to those who echoed sentiments shared by the Maradona.
The writer went into educating Pakistani fans on setting the record straight with achievements of Pakistani football and what has happened in the 3 terms of Faisal Saleh Hayat. What the writer has stated is not wrong but what Maradona commented is as factual as it gets. So let’s have a look what has really happened in the 3 terms of current PFF President and what has been achieved or lack of it.
It starts off with appreciating the Pakistan Premier Football League and how it has had 10 consecutive seasons with KRL winning the last three and crediting PFF with that too alongside the organisation of the league. Credit where it is due, as the PFF changed the age old championship system to league format in 2003.
However, despite 10 seasons rounding up it is without any sponsors, any TV or media partner. Outside Balochistan, the maximum crowd a team drew was less than a thousand; the fixtures every season have been described as inhumane by players and coaches alike with matches taking place every other day. Sometimes 5 matches in 10 days!
The last 4 to 5 seasons have seen the league violate its own and FIFA’s standard rules on forfeiting of matches but it has gone unpunished, with teams repeatedly following this practice.
Over the years teams from KRL, PAF, Navy and Army have refused to travel to Chaman due to security risk and instead of accommodating that, the PFF gave away 3 points to the home sides such as Muslim FC, Afghan FC (both of Chaman) and Baloch FC Nushki but failed to take action against the teams who failed to show up.
In other professionally run leagues in the world the teams forfeiting a match or 2 would have faced demotion and financial sanctions. But in Pakistan it went unpunished with more and more teams joining each season in the refusal to travel to Balochistan. The recently concluded season of the league saw PFF move the league away from Balochistan to a neutral venue for some of the teams, it was a welcomed step however it had its own disadvantages.
The clubs in Balochistan that attract thousands of paying fans lost out on the revenue that keeps those clubs afloat. This season also saw forfeiting of matches but this time by ZTBL who decided midway through the league that they were going down and instead of completing their matches decided not to play.
Instead of throwing them out of the league and reducing the number of matches for other teams and voiding all the points and goals for and against ZTBL for the rest of the teams, the PFF continued to award 3-0 wins to the teams that were scheduled to play ZTBL. Where in the world you see that happening?
It is also pointed out the PFF runs merely on funding from FIFA/AFC and a hand out from the government of 1.5million Rs. The writer is right in that regard and the lack of funding from the government is embarrassing but football with time has become professional and commercial product. The league and the PFF have not managed to recruit any sponsors. Who is to blame for that? In 2009, KASB Bank bought the rights for the league only to leave after a year due to differences between the two parties.
Whilst the winner of Pakistani league gets around 15 lakhs in prize money, the winner of Nepali league gets 75 lakhs (it would be unfair to compare with India or Bangladesh), yet both countries have predominantly departmental system, which is well supported in Nepal and despised in Pakistan.
No game on TV in 10 years, not even a single night game to tempt the locals and no comprehensive reform in the departmental football system. In between all this a TV channel came and did 2 editions of a commercial football league totalling over $1.5million and then folded up due to lack of support from the PFF.
The story also credits PFF with KRL’s success at continental level when the laboratory men reached the final of the 3rd tier AFC Club competition but one should also remember under the old format of the AFC Club competitions the Pakistani clubs used to take part in the Champions league equivalent. AFC later introduced professional criteria which Pakistan has failed to meet 13 years on and can’t even to make it into the 2nd tier AFC Cup let alone Champions League.
So whilst other nations from same standard has moved up for example Myanmar, Maldives, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Palestine whose clubs now play in AFC Cup and some have been doing so for years because they reformed their leagues with time unlike PFF that has waited it out for the AFC to end the 3 tier system. Pakistani sides could have been playing AFC Cup years ago if the changes were made as suggested back in 2006/07 by the AFC.
It is rightly pointed out that the two Pakistani players who joined Kyrgyz club Dordoi Bishkek wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it wasn’t for the current PFF’s initiatives. The writer is correct to an extent and the 2 players are probably the biggest credit PFF can claim in terms of player development but are these lads better than what players Pakistan had in the late 90s and early 2000s?
The likes of Gohar Zaman, Haroon Yousuf, Sarfraz Rasool (AFC Player of the Month in 2003) and the late Qazi Ashfaq are perhaps the modern greats of Pakistani football joined by Muhammad Essa. These players were good enough to move abroad and into better leagues but in those days the federation and departments strictly opposed the players moving abroad despite players getting offers.
Pakistan U16s won the inaugural SAFF Championship in 2011 which PFF claimed a lot of credit for and they deserved it but when the 2013 edition came and it failed to win a game, there was no reaction. Whilst the writer claims the PFF has done great work at youth development one needs to scratch beneath the surface to see where is that work?
The last time Pakistan U16s or U19s qualified for the AFC Championships was in 2000 and 2002 under English coach John Layton and under the previous administration and it was those players who got early exposure under Layton, Burns and Herel who went on to serve Pakistan in the first half of the last decade in which Pakistan won 2 SAF Games under Chinese and Bahraini coaches respectively. And for that the credit goes to the current PFF President Faisal Saleh Hayat.
However since then the development has been questionable, there is no national academy, there are no youth leagues, the teams playing premier league football do not have own youth development departments and more importantly there is no youth development plan in place.
Foreign coaches who have coached the national team in recent years have come and gone, banging their heads against the walls and not much success because whatever football development ideas they present gets shelved or pigeonholed due to lack of vision, ambition and of course lack of funds. One of the foreign coaches to Pakistan once said after just first week in Pakistan “forget football, they don’t know what sport is in this country” highlighting what he was up against. They advised youth leagues, reform in league, better coach education and player development methods, they have gone but things remain the same.
To the PFF’s credit it has done something extraordinary praiseworthy in current challenging times and that is promotion and development of women’s football. Even though the cynics would argue that it is a tick box exercise, a mere formality in order to keep the grants coming for regional and global football bodies.
However the national women’s championship over the years has been a success story and now there is a national team which will play at home in the Women’s SAFF Championship in November. It is important that Pakistan gets up to speed with its neighbours and introduces younger age group teams for girls if it is to develop proper talent at early age.
Whilst the arguments that Pakistan faces the security issues and what is being done is somewhat enough despite the challenges, one has to look across the border in Afghanistan. They have done double the work in half of the time and in much difficult challenges than of Pakistan’s. A senior PFF official highlight whilst inviting Maradona to visit Pakistan that the team had risen up to 158 in FIFA rankings recently, I am not one to judge teams by its FIFA ranking because they change so much even when you don’t play. Pakistan was ranked 151 in 2006 and last few years it went almost to 180.
So what happened there?
The team has failed to go past group stage in any of the last 4 SAFF Championships and failed to qualify for any of the final rounds of the AFC Challenge Cup. Apart from firing of coaches and laying blame on the overseas based players, nobody from the senior management has been held responsible as to why hasn’t it been possible to progress further in a single event in the last 8 years.
So maybe Maradona doesn’t know anything about Pakistani football but he sure does know where we stand in the global game. And that is something most of our own Pakistanis don’t know, where does Pakistan stand in world football.
The article mentioned can be read here: http://www.dawn.com/news/1095932/what-does-maradona-know-about-pakistan-football