By Shahrukh Sohail & Mohammad Shahnawaz
Atif Bashir has been lauded by fans and teammates alike whenever he has donned the Pakistan jersey. And with the ‘Bulldozer’ out with an injury since 2012, no one has been able to replicate those tough-tackling performances in the middle of the park.
However, the great news is that Atif is now finally back in training and expects to take part in this summer’s pre-season as he gears up for a much awaited return to football.
“It is a great feeling to be back running and kicking the ball. To be honest it has been a tantalizing year out of football. From the moment i had my surgery I was planning my recovery,” he said in an exclusive interview with FootballPakistan.com
“I have been training regulatory to get my fitness back and lost a lot of weight which helped improve my agility and speed. I am now looking forward to pre-season. My official return will be this summer. Pre-season friendlies around mid July InshaAllah.”
“My biggest loss that I have incurred from my injury was my spot in the Pakistan side. It was heart breaking to see my fellow team mates face opposition that I had played against without me.”
But while the competition has certainly geared up during his spell on the sidelines, Bashir claims he is raring to go and still possesses that spark required for international level, something which made sure he never missed a game since his debut in 2008 to his unfortunate injury in 2012.
“I am not going to beat around the bush but I know I am good enough to be in the side and now that I have lost the excess weight I believe I am a valuable asset to the national side. I have proven many times that I make a difference in the middle of the park for Pakistan with a game disrupting power-play and my ability to read the game. Fitness was always my downfall but that is now a problem of the past,” he added.
“All I have to say is that the game is nothing without them (the fans) and that their support is amazing. Personally I would like to think that they still believe in me and that I hope they still want me to wear the national shirt!”
Atif also talked about the much-debated local vs. foreign argument and claimed that some foreign-based players had ruined their reputation, but the regulars had always tried to put Pakistan first whenever playing for the Pak Shaheens.
“Funnily I agree that the controversy around foreign-based players is to some extent true. Yes we do in some instances turn up last minute, but that’s within FIFA limits. And yes, we do have some players who have come and gone and with their bad attitude left a nasty taste in the Pakistani players mouth.”
“However, the likes of Adnan, Zesh, myself and Hassan Bashir are in there with heart and mind trying to win games and improve Pakistan’s image in the national community. I strongly believe that to attract pakistani fans it is crucial to have foreigners who play their football in Europe etc in the squad.”
He also claimed that attractive football and taking risks on the field was an essential part of the game and thus it was particularly important to have quality players present.
“Football is not just about running wildly and hoping a shot might or might not find the back of the net. Its also about flare and skill and to entertain the crowd. That’s why we need those players who will try those daring acts on the pitch like my overhead kick attempt against Bangladesh in Lahore which made the crowd stand up.”
Lastly, he also talked about putting the lid on Pakistan’s local vs. foreign problem once and for all, but claimed that only the manager would be able to do such a thing.
“The honest truth (coming from someone who was there when this problem arose) is that some local players do not agree with foreigners taking the place of Pakistani players, who might be their close friends or who might need the place to benefit from the financial aspect that could change their lives. But some have welcomed us and worked with us to develop the National Team.”
“To fix this I think no one else but the manager needs to devise an atmosphere in the camp where the locals and foreigners become one. I have no idea how this can be achieved but I know that this will definitely make a huge difference.”
“Some foreigners like myself have full time jobs which restrict the time they can take off which the local players do not understand as they play for the likes of PIA and WAPDA who support their national careers,” Atif added while talking to FootballPakistan.com