by Asad Farooq
For most 11-year-old boys who grow up watching football around the world, aspirations of one day playing for their national team is par for the course. They watch their favourite teams on TV, buy jerseys with their idols’ names on the back and enroll in football schools. Parents buy them football kits and send them out to play.
Dreams of making football a viable career, however, are still far-fetched in Pakistan — indeed, they are a distant reality in Balochistan.
Now 21, Fazal Mohammad, thus had a far different trajectory growing up in Khuzdar. As an 11-year-old, instead of learning how to dribble a ball on a football pitch, he was learning how to start a stalled engine as a mechanic’s apprentice. “I had to work 12 hours a day at a workshop,” explains Fazal about making ends meet for his family.
Despite working long hours and having to spend time with his family, Fazal found a way to satiate his appetite for football. “My passion compelled me to rush to a nearby ground before 6am and play with a football,” he reveals, adding he then played with friends in the evenings.
Fortunately, Fazal had footballer role models right at home with both his brothers being equally passionate about the sport. His older brother, Waseem, represented Pakistan abroad, and his equally adept younger brother Shakeel Ahmed has been capped by the Pakistan under-14 and 16 teams.
As a result, he is now a part of Pakistan’s under-23 squad. At 21, he has achieved the honour of not only representing Pakistan on an international level, but also scored goals against international teams.
Looking back at an inspirational journey
Professionally, it all began in 2008, when Fazal came to know of trials for the Pakistan under-14 team. Excited about potential opportunities and confident in his skill set, he took part and then waited in anticipation.
Participants were told to check the newspapers to see who survived the final cut. “The next three days were very difficult for me. On a daily basis I used to wait for the newspaper,” Fazal recalls.
Three days after the trial, with heavy rain lashing down on the city, Fazal trekked it to Khuzdar to get the daily paper. Tucking it under his shirt he rushed to find shelter, quivering as much from the rain as anticipation. Much to his joy, his name was among a host of hopefuls who had made it to the team.
“It was the best news I had ever read in my life,” he reminiscences of that fateful day.
It was onwards and upwards for Fazal from then on. He was subsequently selected for the national team, getting the chance to exhibit his abilities against the likes of India, Korea, China, Denmark and Iran amid various other footballing nations. At 14, Fazal even managed to bag his first international goal against Afghanistan in Malaysia.
“It was a life changing moment for me. The goal increased my confidence [and] I realised that we can play and win against other countries,” he tells Dawn.com.
A balancing act
Fazal had dreamt of a life where he could represent his country, of having the fame and being able to inspire others, while providing for his family.
“I learnt a lot from football. It teaches you balance, techniques and a lot of other [skills],” he remarks about ascertaining his goals, both in football and fixing cars. Often fatigued from training sessions, Fazal believed that the pain and hard work would eventually pay off.
“Life makes people tired but I made my life tired,” he says with unmistakeable pride.
Despite his father’s disinterest in sports, Fazal claims he never created a hindrance, only stipulating that he fulfill his duties towards his family, both financially and otherwise.
By retaining his job at the workshop and “spending time with the family on an almost daily basis,” Fazal was able to continue training in pursuit of his ambition.
Dribbling past any personal impediments with ease, the hurdles, unfortunately, exist on the football pitch. “I want to pave the way for my juniors, but we are lagging when it comes to training and opportunities,” Fazal divulges about the dire state sports’ governing bodies.
Expressing his deep concerns over the dismal situation of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), Fazal feels there is plenty of talent being wasted due to a lack of leagues in the country.
Support on a national level is essential to remedy the situations and nourish the talent available to Pakistan football. “Events are essential for the future of the game in Pakistan,” Fazal expands.
Aiming to exhibit his flair to an international audience, affiliations with associations such as Karachi United, with whom Fazal exhibits his flair, are imperative.
Having to worry about their livelihood while striving to emulate their idols is an arduous ask which often dampens their dreams. Any plans to attract attention from an international club will they will first need local support.