by Alam Zeb Safi
Our football venues are crumbling. We have no professional league. We have not achieved anything impressive even at the South Asian level. We lack the will to do something grand. Our football officials still claim Pakistan can make it to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Such shots are normally fired during FIFA World Cup.
Pakistan’s football is at the lowest ebb. If we are to realise our dream of competing with the world’s best, we must have a long-term uninterrupted plan, powered by persistent injection of money into it for its proper execution. In 1991, Japan football was at its lowest. Their top flight was played by amateurs and the football association knew something needed to be done. The birth of J League soon followed. Japan now had its own professional league that one day would become the best in Asia. The dream was to have a successful, sustainable league, to have 100 professional clubs and to win the World Cup.
And Japan are slowly, but consistently, inching towards their long-term goals. Japan have played for the sixth successive time in the World Cup in Russia.
Football is not cricket which is played in only a few countries. It’s the most competitive sport in the world, played in over 200 countries from around the globe. But there is nothing impossible in this world. Pakistan is brimming with talent with over three million of its population actively involved in the sport. The people of Pakistan also madly follow the game and one can see the World Cup fever these days. The land is fertile. It depends on how we sow the seed and then take proper care of it.
In order to strengthen football, Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) will need to take the federal government into confidence because without state support the federation cannot do anything praiseworthy due to lack of finances. It would be of great value if football was owned by the state as a national sport. Only by doing that can the sport be developed. After taking the nod of the state, there will be a need for a long-term development plan which can be made through foreign experts who could be recruited for developing a proper football structure in the country.
Once we have a structure and the resources through state and corporate sector assistance, things will go smoothly. But state support is a must.
The structure must have things indispensable to football development like infrastructure, league system, club development, coaches development, game development in schools and above all persistent international exposure to the players of various age-groups.
If there is a will there is a way. But a right person with a mission will be required to be given the PFF affairs. It would not be the job of an ordinary individual.
Ask Pakistan’s most senior coach and FIFA instructor Tariq Lutfi and he will tell you what Pakistan should do for football development.
“I think it’s unrealistic to say that Pakistan can qualify for 2026 World Cup or any edition in the near few decades,” Tariq told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS).
“We are yet far behind. There should be some realistic targets. For example, we should first set the goal of winning SAFF Championship which is contested among the seven nations of the South Asian region. We are yet to win that event although the standard of its teams is not that high,” Tariq pointed out.
“Here you will face India which is investing heavily in the game. And for that you will have to make extra efforts. After achieving the target of claiming SAFF Cup title the next step should be to compete with the teams of Far East. And also we will now have to play in the SWAFF region which will also carry Saudi Arabia, a World Cup-playing nation. Competing with the Gulf nations will tell us how much investment we will need to raise the standard of our game. It’s a long process and there is a need for a consistent policy to achieve the goals,” said Tariq, who coaches Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC).
“For achieving the high target we must have a professional league. We are still playing amateur football. We need to take a fresh start with professional approach. Only then can we achieve something bigger,” Tariq said.
Another senior coach Nasir Ismail seems optimistic about Pakistan’s football development and says that the goal of qualifying for World Cup can be achieved if right man is placed at the right place in the PFF.
“There is an abundance of talent in Pakistan but there is a need to put the right person at the right position,” Nasir told TNS.
“The football infrastructure should be boosted. The already established FIFA Houses should be immediately made functional and boarding academies should be established across the country. Top and qualified coaches of the state should be utilised to polish talent and the league should be made professional. If such steps are not taken then forget qualifying for the World Cup,” Nasir said.
In the 2026 World Cup, there will be 48 teams competing as compared to the current 32 and so there will be a chance for more teams to showcase their talent at the global showpiece.
A sudden rise is not possible and there is a need for a consistent approach to achieve the goals. The PFF should take a fresh start. After the formation of a new government, a step of declaring football a national game can be taken. The idea may face stiff opposition but it is indeed needed to develop the most beautiful sport.
It’s time to think for football which is in the hearts of the Pakistanis. If we develop this game, it will become a great source of income. The money which will be earned through the export of our players for foreign lucrative leagues will add to the country’s economy. Let’s think differently.