by Alam Zeb Safi
The last three years of inactivity have destroyed Pakistan’s football. And it was visible during the 24-team National Challenge Cup which concluded last Thursday. Star players looked rusted and most of the established teams exited in the group stage.
This must have put the newly-hired Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira in trouble. He has a big task ahead to form Pakistan team out of this rustic stock for Asian Games and SAFF Championships, which are to be held later this summer.
The Asian Games are pencilled in for August 18 to September 2 in Indonesia. SAFF Cup will be held in Bangladesh from September 4-15.
Jose, who has served as a coach of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli club, knows the situation. What I have come to know is that more than 40 players, both seniors and under-23, will be invited to the camp which is expected to begin at Lahore in the next few days.
In the Asian Games, an under-23 team, with three seniors, will be fielded. A complete senior side will be fielded in SAFF Cup. Jose needs to pick the right boys, both home-grown and foreign-based, and capable support staff so that quality work could be done on the boys in the three months before the Games.
At this stage when football has started after a long hiatus, Pakistan direly needs the services of a foreign trainer so that the players’ fitness could be improved.
The second thing the PFF should do is to hold camp for a couple of months on foreign soil. The Gulf countries and Thailand would be ideal destinations as Jose’s brigade would be able to get some quality practice matches which is very important for a team which has not played in international circuit for the last three years.
Unless these things are done, Pakistan will face serious trouble at Asian Games as well as SAFF Cup. If Pakistan team puts up some graceful performances against tough sides of the continent, it will be enough. To win at this stage would not be possible for the Green-shirts. But in SAFF Cup, they could achieve big if the coming three months were utilised properly.
It will be a big challenge for players to train in Ramadan in which sessions will be held at night.
But the PFF faces some other challenges as well. Elections are to be held this summer under the directives of the Supreme Court. In the first phase, the elections of Punjab Football Association (PFA) were held on May 5 at the Olympic House in Lahore in which the PFF’s close associate Sardar Naveed Haider got elected as president.
It is expected that the elections would be held when there would be a caretaker government in the country. Let’s see how the PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat plays his cards.
Just a few days ago, Pakistan Football Referees Association (PFRA) deposed its longest-serving chief Qazi Mohammad Asif through a no confidence motion at an extraordinary congress. It is not yet clear whether the newly-elected PFRA chief Mian Abdul Bari will be able to cast his vote in the PFF elections. Bari is the president of Punjab Football Referees Association. He had been specifically brought by the PFF to Karachi to deliver different jobs during the National Challenge Cup. He was also seen exchanging hot words with a senior sports journalist which made his capability to head such an association questionable.
Contrary to the past, the PFF this time did a fine job by keeping referees at good hotels during the National Challenge Cup. This practice should continue during the Premier League which will begin in October. In the entire football world, associations play an important role in sports development. But we don’t see such a thing in Pakistan. In the National Challenge Cup in Karachi, it was seen that there was no role of Sindh Football Association (SFA). Serving tea and drinking water to the guests is not the job of the officials of the associations. The associations are more important than PFF as these bodies produce players. Unless they are empowered, football will never improve in Pakistan.
The PFF may face an issue of getting a suitable pitch for practice in the Punjab capital. It is also not yet clear where the players will stay as the hostel of the PFF headquarters in Lahore is being rehabilitated.
A senior PFF official told me the other day that it would be seen whether the hostel of the PFF headquarters is good enough for the players to stay.
PFF says its headquarters were damaged during the last three years of occupation by its rival group. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has approved 300,000 US dollars for its rehabilitation.
The re-launch of football in Pakistan has created a hope that a bright future is awaiting the sport which has a huge following in the country. Help from FIFA and AFC may take Pakistan to a new level soon.