ISLAMABAD: In the quest to keep up with international standards, Pakistan’s 22-year-old national team manager Raheela Zarmeen will start her FIFA Master’s degree this January to become the first Pakistani to do so.
Raheela, who manages Balochistan United FC in domestic events and has been a part of the national women’s team for the last two years, said that her aim is to acquire the FIFA degree which will enable her to work with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA.
“Football is my passion,” Raheela told The Express Tribune. “I want to be a part of this sport till the end of my life. Playing is not the only way to make a living in football. I know what it is like to be a player; I was one from 2005 till 2010. I understand the pressures and the requirements. But now I want to carve a new path. It’s something I want to do because no one from Pakistan has ever done it before.”
Talking about the Master’s degree, Raheela said that the programme deals with teaching FIFA rules and laws, as well as the administration and management aspect of the sport.
Raheela feels that Pakistan needs more professional administrators and managers as there is a lack of professional approach towards the sport domestically. “It is a career and it is work,” she said. “The players and the officials have to be conscious about that on a domestic level, we need better sponsorships and the national side also needs more exposure with friendly tours. You see, professionalism comes with experience. We need to have more opportunities for the players,” added the Quetta–based manager.
While many would scoff at the idea of a 22-year-old as a national team manager, Raheela believes that being this young actually works in her favour as the players are also of the same age, which means they are more comfortable in approaching her with their problems and concerns.
Explaining her role, the manager said that she acts as the bridge between the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and the players. “I have to deal with everything from communicating with the coach, the assistant coaches and the PFF to solving the problems of the players,” explained Raheela. “It is a PFF and FIFA rule to have a female manager with the women’s team. So I’m here. In the last two months, national coach Tariq Lutfi has groomed me to be an effective manager and he was the one who recommended me for the FIFA Master’s degree.”
Aspiring to be a future official at FIFA and AFC, Raheela said that it will be a challenging task, as the one-year FIFA Master’s course is only conducted in Italy, England and Switzerland, with only 90 students enrolled.
“It’s an honour, but it is exciting and encouraging for a country like Pakistan,” said Raheela. “Only 20 per cent of the female participants in the degree are female, but FIFA is supporting girls from developing countries, so I am looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, coach Lutfi said that it is about time that more opportunities are given to the youngsters. He said that having a young manager brings a positive attitude into the team and improves morale, as the players do not feel awkward or misunderstood in any situation.
“There is a bright future ahead for Raheela,” said Lutfi. “She is efficient and quick and understands her responsibility, which is essential for a manager. Hopefully more young women will follow this path after her.”