By Natasha Raheel,
They say old words are reborn with new faces, that the future of the coming generations lies in our hands, that our mistakes will definitely not be their saving grace.
The Pakistan football team, to this date, has failed to make headlines across the globe excluding the likes of a few players who have individually proven themselves after signing with international clubs.
And as the country struggles, former national captain Essa Khan, who hails from Chaman, believes it is high time they invested in the new generation of players to even dream of seeing Pakistan compete at the World Cup in the next five to eight years.
“The children need to at least know how to tackle the ball by the time they are 10,” said Essa. “In Chaman, we work at my academy with children who are as young as five because this is when they start to enjoy the game, and once they enjoy it, they excel at it too.”
However, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) does not have any U10 or U8 teams. They begin training the players starting from the U12 category.
According to Essa, this policy was implemented because the Asian Football federation (AFC) does not have any tournaments for the U10 players and so the PFF only prepares teams for the AFC events.
“It’s sad that we don’t have any professional setup in Pakistan, nor are there any specialised coaches either for children since Licence C or B coaches just want to work with clubs and not youth teams.”
Meanwhile, another former national footballer Arif Mehmood, who started the juniors U16 camp in Multan says there is a desperate need to focus on the grassroots level. “While the federation will take its time to work on the children, we can’t wait for that long. This is something us footballers in the country have to work for on our own,” said Mehmood.
Emeka hopes to bring scouts from Barca, West Ham
In line with Essa and Mehmood, Nigerian coach and a former player for his country, Emeka Aliewa has taken the task of working with children starting from age six and going up to 18 upon his own shoulders, hoping to produce at least one Pakistani player who may one day perform in the European leagues.
His dream, in the last decade that he has spent in Pakistan and formed the Mescon Islamabad Football Academy, has been to groom players with discipline and hone their talents. And in more recent years, he has been looking for ways to call officials from Spain’s Barcelona FC and England’s West Ham United to scout the talent in Pakistan.
“It’s a dream that I’ve been carrying for a while,” said Emeka. “We’ve been grooming children in Islamabad — it’s the city I’ve been living in for the last decade — and I can assure you that there is no dearth of talent in Pakistan. But we need to focus on the children and the PFF should also start prioritising the juniors now.”
This year, Emeka organised a local tournament, where he held matches in four age categories starting from eight and going on till 18, to help get attention to his players and their skills.
According to the coach, today’s youth mostly follow European clubs, so he named the teams after them in order to attract more players and crowds. “It’s amazing as to how these children respond to the sport. They got into it by watching European football and not because of national interest, so it’s a point that we have to consider. That’s why I’ve been in contact with Barcelona FC and West Ham FC to send their coaches and officials so that they can see the players here. It’s important to let them come because they really have no idea that we even play football in Pakistan.”
However, Emeka acknowledged that the biggest challenge was getting enough funds to invite the talent scouts, who are willing to come for two weeks but need to be accommodated with the best of facilities.
“I don’t have any sponsors but I have worked on my players for the last decade. I came up with the idea of calling these talent scouts to Pakistan in 2013, but again it is due to financial constraints that nothing substantial has come about of the idea.”
We have saviours, but not enough of them. And to accomplish more for the glorious days we hope Pakistan football can one day see, the older and younger generations need to collaborate more.
‘Deep under our feet the earth holds it molten breath’…in wait.