Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
KARACHI: Pakistan’s best striker and the only local player to sign a Rs10 million contract with a foreign club, Kaleemullah, believes he has achieved his goal of making a name for himself in central Asia.
The 23-year-old plays for FC Dordoi and finished the season as the highest scorer in the Kyrgyzstan League with 18 goals. He also helped the side win the Kyrgyzstan Super Cup, his four goals in the tournament making him the top-corer for that too.
However, it has not always been smooth sailing for the man from Chaman. “It was difficult to stay confident at the start,” Kaleemullah told The Express Tribune. “Signing the contract earlier this year was an alien experience for me. It was something I had only seen happening with foreign players. Then when I went to FC Dordoi — playing with players from Russia, France and Brazil — it was at that time that I told myself that without being confident in my own abilities, I wouldn’t survive.”
However, the nerves at the start were soon replaced with a desire to become the best player for his new club. Kaleemullah was the key striker for Pakistan Premier Football League champions KRL but knew that FC Dordoi and the football culture abroad would be a different story altogether. “I’m a different footballer now as compared to what I was at the beginning of the year,” said Kaleemullah. “The first few matches were a struggle; I played as a midfielder, I think I played six matches in that position. But then I knew I had to prove myself. I derived my confidence from that desire. I just wanted to score badly, it was like a need. And I made sure that my confidence doesn’t shake when I’m playing with players from other countries.”
The former KRL man inches closer to his dream of playing in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, whose winning side qualifies for the AFC Champions League.
“I’m on a break at the moment but I will be going back to Kyrgyzstan on January 3,” he added. “We’ll begin preparations for the AFC Cup in Dubai and Turkey.”
Playing for Pakistan
Despite not taking part in the Palestine friendlies which took place in Lahore, Kaleemullah said that he is always available for the country, even for the possible Afghanistan-Pakistan friendly in January next year.
“I have no issues with anyone,” said Kaleemullah. “But I want to play alongside a good team. I think too many changes in the squad hurt our performance. I feel the selection of players is not good enough.”
Kaleemullah believes that the only way to increase football’s popularity is to improve results. “It all depends on the results,” he said. “Pakistanis don’t notice their own team because we don’t win. When we played against India and delivered good results, people appreciated us.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2014.