By FPDC Staff
We had the chance to speak to George Kottan, former Pakistan national team head coach on his time in Pakistan and how he believes Pakistan can improve its football.
George had a well-travelled career as a player and coach playing in his native Hungary, Austria, Germany and then in America where he was coached by the legendary Rinus Michels. After ending career at LA Aztecs, Kottan joined Michels as an assistant in what would be the start of a three decade long coaching career.
Kottan followed Michels to Europe and assisted the Dutch maestro at FC Koln followed by spells in Austria and Spain before joining the age group teams of Hungary and taking part in the 1996 Atlanta Games football event. He served as Technical Director of Hungary until 2000 and then ventured into Asia to lead Bangladesh to 2003 SAFF Championship as well managing league teams in Bangladesh and India. Kottan then took over Pakistan in 2009 on a year-long contract.
Before taking over Pakistan Kottan recalls he didn’t know great deal about domestic football in Pakistan, however he saw the Shaheens in the 2003 SAFF Championship in which Pakistan lost the semi-finals, with Kottan winning on home soil for Bangladesh. And that lack of understanding of Pakistani football seemed to be a key factor in Kottan’s struggle as Pakistan’s coach, where the football league was way behind the much better structured league of Bangladesh and India and unlike Bangladesh, Pakistan did not have youth development systems in place.
Football development according to Kottan is key component of a federation’s working but in Pakistan he saw very little of that. He recalls, “Nothing happened on football development other than a few coaching courses” in his year in charge. The Austro-Hungarian tactician was surprised when he saw very little round work on youth development and how the federation expected results at senior level despite players lacking basic techniques.
When asked what he had thought of Pakistan’s domestic football competition, the Pakistan Premier League and National Challenge Cup, his response was blunt, “If they are being organized as they were in 2009, you might as well not organize them.”
He added that the league and cup competition did little to improve players, with tight scheduling and no proper development pathways, the league lacked serious quality which was reflective of the national team’s sorry state.
Kottan had some constructive advice on youth development which he said was only workable in Pakistan if there was serious approach from all stakeholders including the governments both central and provincial. He said during his time it was all talk and less action when it came to development of football at grass roots level which must be addressed urgently. It should start with reform the school sport and educating more coaches who would work with young pupils from an early age. This should be followed up by establishing academies in line with modern day needs.
Kottan also criticized lack of playing facilities which he says was like trying to play “water polo without water.” It is important to mention that lack of football grounds is a major stumbling block which so far has not been addressed by the federation or the government. Whilst various goal projects are construction it should be highlighted that PFF doesn’t have its own training facility nor it owns a stadium and Kottan experienced this first hand when his team was forced to train at the hockey stadium due to poor condition of the pitch made available to him in 2009.
Kottan had lot to say on the hotly debated issue of overseas based players who have faced lot of criticism, opposition and had their loyalties questioned. Kottan said “Overseas based players are few level higher than the players in Pakistan when it comes to technical ability and technical awareness, they have had better coaching from an early and exposure to competitive football.”
Whether Pakistan should call these players in the future or follow the current exclusion policy of Bahraini coach Mohammad Al Shamlan, Kottan said “It depends what is important to the federation, short-medium term success with overseas based players or long term development of its own football, which isn’t happening either”.
In the 2009 SAFF Championship, Pakistan crashed out in an unfortunate manner after being labeled as one of the favourites given it has inclusion of 6 overseas players and some of the best local players with adequate preparations. Kottan highlighted how a missed penalty from Adnan Ahmed against Sri-Lanka was a turning point for Pakistan in that event. However, the tournament was marred by a typical Pakistan style player politics from the senior players which ultimately was the downfall of the team in that tournament. Kottan had decided to bench goalkeeper after his disappointing performance against the Lankans which Jaffar took to heart and decided to retire mid tournament but resulted in distracted dressing room which was evident in the remaining games as Pakistan failed to beat Bangladesh and exited at group stages.
Commenting on the latest development which has seen number of Pakistani players move abroad to play leagues in Kyrgyzstan and Bahrain to which he said Pakistan must not expect overnight transformation because the standard of the leagues in these countries isn’t as high as Europe but still better than Pakistan. Players will get better environment and facilities which would benefit their progression.
Kottan also lambasted the revolving door syndrome which has seen Pakistan try 6 different coaches in 5 years meaning there is no stability in squad leading to dismal results. He said “The PFF need to understand that due to poor domestic structure it takes a new coach long time to scout the whole country and then experiment different players and combinations, a coach should be given at least 3 to 4 years in order to implement his plans.”