by Scott McIntyre
With a FIFA-imposed suspension finally lifted and a new Brazilian coach appointed this week things are looking bright for the future of football in Pakistan.
One player at the centre of what’s hoped to be a revival for Pakistani football has some unique experiences to share as he looks towards a new dawn for his nation.
Sharing a name as he does with one of history’s more notorious characters, when many people meet the nation’s star midfielder Saddam Hussain for the first time, football isn’t always the initial point of discussion.
“Sometimes people look at me and say, oh, I didn’t know you were still alive,” the 25-year-old laughs down the line from Cyprus when FOX Sports Asia caught up with him earlier this week.
“This was a name that was very popular when I was born and it was given to me by my grandfather so when I was young of course I didn’t know anything about this name.
“As I grew older of course I became aware of the President of Iraq but I’m different, I’m not that Saddam Hussain, I’m a sportsman.”
And a very talented one at that, indeed the versatile midfielder is regarded as one of the leading Pakistani talents of his generation.
Hailing from a family where his uncle and cousins all played the game, Hussain began his journey in his hometown of Karachi, an area he calls a hotbed of football, before captaining the national youth team and then forging a professional career that’s seen him play in Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and now Northern Cyprus.
With an offer on the table to join a first division club in Turkey next season things are certainly looking up for Hussain, who also told FOX Sports Asia that he’s thrilled that football is finally returning to his nation after the lifting of a FIFA ban imposed for various political reasons involving the country’s football association.
“This is a new journey for our country and we hope that our football will be totally changed.
“In Pakistan we have so many talented young players but not enough investment and we need to ensure that we have a strong local league.
“We need foreign players and foreign coaches to come to our country and help raise the standard of our game.”
Part of that wish has come true with the highly credentialed Brazilian Jose Antonio Nogueira appointed this week. His immediate task is to focus on the South Asian Championships later this year and also the upcoming Asian Games, which Hussein has targeted as being a key stepping stone on the path to success for Pakistan.
“This is a new start for us and we’re all hoping that he can bring with him the elements of Brazilian football and this modern way of playing.
“As a player I always want to win every game I play and if I am fortunate enough to be involved I want to help Pakistan to reach the quarterfinals of the Asian Games because that would be the first time that we could do it.”
“It’s still only a couple of months since our ban was removed but it’s my mentality to work hard for every match and win any competition we enter so even then we need to start thinking about the next Asian Cup in 2023 as well.”
Capable of playing either as a deeper, central, midfielder or in a more attacking capacity, Hussain says has modelled his game on some of the leading talents in the position including Toni Kroos and Casemiro. He added that he believes that people will soon start to understand the potential that lies within his nation’s footballing stocks.
“It’s my dream to play at the highest level, I want to be on the screen with everybody knowing me and I believe I have the skills and talent to do that, but it’s not just about me because we have so much talent in Pakistan.
“People might think cricket is popular, but for the young generation football is their sport and there will be big crowds coming to our matches even though we need more investment to raise the standard of our league.
“In Pakistan we have so much talent and this upcoming generation has such good quality but we don’t have the platform or the media coverage so nobody knows about our football in Pakistan but I tell you we have the talent and I want everybody to know that.”
One man sure to be at the forefront of that battle to raise the level of Pakistani football, both on and off the pitch, is the passionate and talented Saddam Hussain – the football star, not the deceased Iraqi tyrant.