by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Pakistan’s former captain Kaleemullah made sure he makes his mark despite being bullied by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) as he scored his 100th club career goal and 42nd outside the country in Turkey on Sunday night.
He became the first Pakistani male footballer to achieve the feat.
The 25-year-old has been wrongfully chastised by the PFF, only for speaking up about the lack of professionalism displayed by the federation and the stunted development of the beautiful game of football.
He had pointed out that in the tenure of the PFF president Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat since 2003, there has been no professional league in the country or a decent football stadium, for that alone he was slapped with vicious threats by the PFF vice-president Sardar Naveed Haider, calling the former captain ‘ greedy’, ‘traitor’, and unpatriotic for playing in Turkey, along with the federation sending him a disciplinary notice on violating the code of conduct.
Kaleemullah had answered to it by asking for an explanation of the comments, whereas he wanted to represent the country at the Asian Games and South Asian Football Federation Championship, but the PFF tried to make an example out of him to scare other players from speaking up.
The officials had also called Kaleemullah unfit for the team, however the Turkish Clubs found him to be an asset.
However, putting the bitterness behind, Kaleemullah has proved his worth again as he scored for his current club Igdirspor in the 68th minute against Cayelispor in the Bolgesel Amator Lig match.
“My target was to score a goal in this match,” Kaleemullah told The express Tribune. “I was trying from the beginning and the goal-keeper stopped few of my attempts but I finally managed to get the ball in the net. It was the best feeling for me. It was a challenge to score this goal.
He continued by revealing his motivation for the landmark goal. “My motivation here was to let this become an inspiration for the young footballers. To let them know that although this is not easy, but it is achievable, to be a Pakistani footballer and score goals abroad. It is special for me.”
Kaleemullah pointed out that historically, Pakistani players have not been very good at finishing and have struggled to score goals for the teams they played for, but he wanted to change that perception.
“Pakistanis aren’t known for scoring many goals, but I’m trying to make every opportunity count. I want the younger players to stick to football and not give up their dream. I didn’t. It is not easy but we can make our mark in football too,” said Kaleemullah.
The Chaman-born striker, who played for Khan Research Laboratories before going to FC Dordoi in 2014 and then later playing two seasons in the United Soccer League for Sacramento Republic FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC, said that his philosophy has changed over the years too.
“If someone is paying me to play for them, they are spending money on me, they have a right to get the best from me, it is not just a job, but a form of gratitude too that they trusted me, that they believed in me and I don’t want to let them down,” said Kaleemullah.
“When Former Pakistan coach Zavisa Milosavljevic called me to sign for FC Dordoi, he trusted me, then other doors opened for me, and this matters. Now Igdirspor and the coaches here believe in me, the crowd cheers for me, so I have to be grateful and show it through my performance.”
Kaleemullah also added that the Pakistani footballers need to aim higher. He is looking to go to Europe, however, he feels that others should aim for leagues outside of South Asian region too, referring to how Pakistani players used to play in Bangladesh before 1971.
He stressed that in Pakistan the league system is out-dated and is only wasting players’ time without any planning or future prospects for them.
“I’ve played in few countries now and none have a system like PFF’s. They never took any step to make football attractive or lucrative enough for the players,” said Kaleemullah. “The league doesn’t have any clubs, it has departments. There are only three clubs, all from Balochistan. I played for KRL but no one comes to see a departmental team, but the crowds are there for the clubs like Muslim FC, Afghan FC and Baloch FC from Noshki. The Pakistan Premier League is a league that has no clubs. There is no money. They are wasting players.”
He further elaborated that with Igdirspor he is getting match bonus and the leagues are lucrative for all the parties involved.
Meanwhile, footballers in the Pakistan national team are not getting their due, whereas he recalled that being the Pakistan national captain in 2012-13 also meant that he had to be the part-time laundry man for the team.
“The PFF announced that the players would get $200 per day for international matches, they didn’t get that, the girls who participated for Pakistan at the recent international events didn’t get their due share either. When I was the captain, a PFF official told me after a match we had won that I should collect the shirts and even socks from the players and hand it back to the federation.
“I told Zavisa back then that I don’t want to be Pakistan captain. They had reduced the players to nothing, even in the national team. We used to do our own laundry; it was disheartening. We won a match and all the PFF officials could care about was shirts and socks that can be returned instead of words of motivation or appreciation. But we did that too because we wanted to play for Pakistan,” Kaleemullah recalled.
Now he is waiting for the PFF to answer his questions, but more importantly he is looking for the future.
“We are doing all we can. I need to be hopeful because that is the only way. I hope my achievements can contribute to Pakistan football, I hope I can make way for others, with every opportunity I get,” said Kaleemullah.