by Alam Zeb Safi
After being restored by court and FIFA, Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has a tough task of instilling a fresh life in the body of football which suffered a lot during the last three years.
Pakistan has two major assignments ahead: Asian Games and SAFF Championships, both of immense importance, particularly the latter, which Pakistan have never won.
The Asian Games are pencilled in for August 18 to September 2 in Indonesian cities of Palembang and Jakarta. SAFF Championships will be hosted by Bangladesh from September 4-15.
In the Asian Games, an under-23 team with four senior players will be fielded. The senior side will be sent for the SAFF Championships.
The time factor is of immense significance. Faisal Saleh Hayat-led PFF will have to take some bold decisions. It will have to give its team a long training camp and also some exposure. I think the PFF has money in its exchequer and its chief has also strong relations with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The AFC chief Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa can help Pakistan in many areas.
Without a couple of foreign tours with matches against some standard sides, it would be difficult to give our players confidence. They have been away from competitive football for three long years due to the conflict between the Faisal-led group and the group headed by Arshad Lodhi, a former PFF secretary and former chief of Punjab Football Association (PFA).
Giving a couple of months training either in Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may help the players shake off their rustiness. If a foreign coach is hired in the next one month it will enable the PFF to form a good team for the two assignments.
The PFF should start working on such lines right now. Impressive return to international football will be of high value.
In a bid to prepare for the international commitments this year, the PFF is going to hold National Football Challenge Cup in Karachi later this month. This is the second major event of the country after the Premier League, the country’s top-tier football tournament.
The National Challenge Cup will provide an opportunity to the selectors to pick the best of the boys for forming teams for the Asiad and SAFF Championships. A transparent policy should be adopted to constitute the Technical Study Group (TSG) which should comprise the best coaches of the country. The TSG Group should not have those coaches who manage teams in the National Challenge Cup. If such coaches are also put in the group they should not be allowed to pick or recommend any player of their own team.
As it may take time to hire the services of a foreign coach, the PFF should announce the name of the home-grown coach who may serve, in case no foreign coach comes in the meantime, as head coach of the team.
The head coach should have say in the selection process as he will be the person answerable for the teams’ performances. If a foreign coach is hired after selection of the team the already announced homegrown head coach should serve as the senior assistant coach. He would be the perfect man to assist the foreign coach.
The PFF should try to pick young talent with high speed as speed is very important in modern football. A player’s techniques can be improved but it is very difficult to improve his speed. If there is any young talent abroad it should also be considered. But it would not be a good step to give more chances to those foreign players who have failed to play any big role in Pakistan’s football during the last few years.
For building a strong side, the PFF should also hire a foreign trainer. A trainer’s role is very important as the coaches, having licences, don’t know much about the conditioning aspect of the athletes.
I have covered ten seasons of the Pakistan Premier Football League but I have not seen any team with top-class conditioning. If I don’t forget, a former international athlete Mohammad Talib once trained the team of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) for the Premier League and that side proved its perfect conditioning and fitness level in the entire season.
During the last three years, some coaches stood with the PFF’s rival group. It would not be easy for the federation to restore working relations with them right now. But I would advise the PFF to set all the grievances aside and take the whole community along as any cleavage in football fraternity would be detrimental for the sport.
We have seen that such differences have hurt other sports disciplines during the last few years.
And the next immediate task before PFF is the organisation of the Premier League which is to begin in October. This time it should be a different league with more investment. The participating teams should be encouraged to pick at least a couple of foreign players. Without that, the league would not be able to get popularity.
It’s time to make a perfect start and make football the second best sport of the country.