by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The blame game has already begun. Returning to the international fold after a three-year gap, Pakistan aren’t expected to do wonders at this month’s Asian Games or the SAFF Suzuki Cup that follows but humiliation there will only heighten the level of accusations hurled by each of the disputing parties.
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has seemingly stooped to a new low in accusing the country’s star striker Kaleemullah of preferring money before the national team. In comments to DawnNewsTV this week, PFF’s Sardar Naveed Haider Khan explicitly said Kaleem had signed a contract with Turkish fifth-division side Izmirspor ‘for the money’ while skipping national team duties and the twin upcoming assignments.
It provoked a strong reaction from Kaleem.
“My name was specifically omitted from the list by [PFF president] Faisal Saleh Hayat because of the statements I’d given about the working of the PFF,” he told Dawn on Friday, adding a new twist to the saga that has engulfed Pakistan football this week.
“It’s very petty-minded of them to do that really,” added the frustrated player.
Kaleem’s comments follow a gag order that has been imposed on the national team players, who earlier this week returned from a training camp in Bahrain where they played games against local sides. Dawn tried to speak to some players during their tour but to no avail.
“At times the players don’t realise what they’re saying so we’ve stopped them from speaking,” the PFF spokesperson told Dawn.
It added more weight to Kaleem’s claim that he has been barred from the national team for his comments.
“They have barred me because I have spoken about the unprofessionalism in the PFF on several forums,” he added.
“People ask me a number of times why we aren’t going forward as a football nation. Is it not right to talk about the role that the PFF has to play for that?” he questioned. “Whose job is it to develop football in Pakistan?”
The striker, who has also played for clubs in Kyrgyzstan and the United States, added that the PFF couldn’t ask players ‘not to speak the truth” since’ none of the players are centrally-contracted”.
Kaleem’s name wasn’t included in the first list of 59 probables called up for the national team camp at the end of May. At that time the PFF had said the striker, then playing for another Turkish club, would be called up with the rest of the foreign-based lot. The PFF, on June 27, wrote a letter — seen by Dawn — to K-Electric, Kaleem’s parent club in the country, to release him for the national team camp.
It’s surprising though that if the striker was being treated as a foreign-based player, why the PFF would write a letter to K-Electric. Nevertheless, Kaleem turned up for training.
“I was surprised when my name wasn’t in the initial list and I contacted both [technical director] Shahzad Anwar and [head coach] Jose Antonio Nogueira to find out,” Kaleem informed. “I was initially told that the foreign-based players would only be considered for the SAFF Cup.
“At the time when most of the players were getting ready to go to Bahrain, I was called up to the training camp in Lahore. I met both Shahzad and Nogueira and told them that I’d be willing to join the squad in Bahrain after a few days in Turkey where I had to finalise my transfer to Izmirspor and also because I was getting engaged.
“I was assured that I’d be sent a letter in Turkey to join the camp,” added Kaleem. “It hasn’t arrived yet and now they are talking about me being money-minded. I’ve been told that my name was also included in the list for the Asian Games [that run from Aug 2 to Sept 18] but Hayat deliberately slashed it off the list.”
Shahzad, meanwhile, called out Kaleem for being unprofessional.
“He was asked to report on the June 30 yet he appeared out of nowhere on July 8,” the recently-installed PFF technical director told Dawn on Saturday. “Yes he did tell us his plans but from the only training session he attended, we could see that he wasn’t even close to full fitness. I have no doubt when I say that the players we have in his position at this moment in time are much better and much fitter than him. He was only given light training and he left the camp the very next day without informing anyone. Therefore we don’t have any obligation to call him up.”
Kaleem, meanwhile, slammed Brazilian Nogueira’s acumen as a coach on basis of that one training session. “He was telling us what you tell six-year-olds,” said Kaleem. “I’ve been lucky to have got training under some top coaches so I can tell the difference. I was told we have an hour-long training session yet the session stretched to six hours. I’ve never done that in my career. I very bluntly told them that this was very unprofessional. For God’s sake, it’s a national team camp.”
With the gag order in place, none of the Pakistan players responded when approached for questions by Dawn on Nogueira. But Shahzad, who hired Nogueira in the first place and is an old friend of the Brazilian, defended the national team coach. “He’s working with the team and it will show results,” said the man who has been old friends with Nogueira. “The camp has been good and it will bear fruit.”
The PFF technical director added that a tour to Qatar had been finalised with the team playing two matches there before flying out to Bangladesh for the SAFF Cup, which kicks off from Sept 4.