By Alam Zeb Safi,
KARACHI: Pakistan Premier Football League champions K-Electric strengthened their line-up ahead of the 2016 AFC Cup play-off qualifiers when they hired two England-based players and a coach of Pakistani origin.
Shani Abbasi and Irfan Khan will reinforce the fragile defence of K-Electric, while Majid Shafiq will serve as head coach during qualifiers to be held from August 9-15 in Bhutan.
K-Electric have been placed in Group A with hosts Bhutan’s Druk United and Mongolia’s Khoromkhon FC.
K-Electric will face Druk United on August 11 and Khoromkhon FC on August 13.
Five-time Kyrgyzstan champions Alga FC have been placed in Group B with Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club of Bangladesh and Casa Benfica of Macau. The group slots will be held in Bishkek.
The winners of each group will move into the next year’s play-offs.
“We have hired these players and coach for the AFC assignment,” K-Electric Head of Sports Marketing and Brand Activation Zabe Khan told ‘The News’ on Tuesday.
“If they proved themselves in Bhutan they may be offered long contracts for the Premier League,” Zabe said.
He said they direly needed such induction for the AFC competitions. “Our team was not too strong, particularly in defence, as we conceded too many goals in the national league. We opted to pick foreign-based players because they have a very good technique,” Zabe said.
“Irfan is purely a full-back. Shani can play both as left and right-back and also in the midfield. But we will play him in the deep to strengthen the defence,” Zabe said.
“Bhutan have African players and so are not weak. But we have a good fighting chance. I hope our rejuvenated side will click,” Zabe said.
The England-based trio land in Karachi on July 24 to join the camp at Steel Town here.
Zabe credited their CEO Tayyab Tareen and business chief Usama Qureshi for the deal.
Besides representing Pakistan at junior level, Irfan has played for semi-professional football clubs Thackley United and Bradford Park Avenue.
Shani was part of Pakistan squad for the 2010 China Asian Games. He played at Sheffield Wednesday’s Football Academy (professional club), Ossett Town Farsley FC and Wakefield FC.
Majid is an FA Advanced qualified coach and former director of Stalybridge Celtic Academy.
Majid, an Oxford graduate, also heads Aspirations All Pakistan Football Alliance (APFA), which plans to launch its ‘Elite Football Academy’ in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Zabe said they would get NOC for their two Nigerian players, Oludeyi Sunday and Wilson Segun, by Thursday.
“Effort will be made to ensure their availability for the camp between July 24 and 26,” Zabe said.
The Nigerians played a key role last season to guide K-Electric to their maiden title victory in the 11-year history of the Premier League.
Striker Sunday has played two back-to-back seasons for K-Electric. Central midfielder Wilson played last season.
K-Electric coach Hasan Baloch said they needed recruitment. “In the last Challenge Cup, the morale of our players was not good. I feared it would be difficult for us to fight with the same lot in the AFC event without fresh recruitment,” Hasan told this correspondent.
“I hope Shani and Irfan will give a boost to our side,” Hasan said.
“We have also hired Pakistan and PIA midfielder Habib-ur-Rehman and are in contact with a couple of more players,” Hasan said.
This will be the first international assignment for K-Electric who recorded their maiden league title last season.
WAPDA and KRL have already played in the third-tier Asian club championship which was then called as the AFC President’s Cup.
Last year saw the curtain come down on the AFC President’s Cup as the confederation opened the door for more Member Associations to participate in the continent’s flagship event, the AFC Champions League, and the ever-improving AFC Cup.