by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Pakistan football team’s highly talented goalkeeper Saqib Hanif has said that his experience of playing league in Maldives in the last few seasons has instilled a lot of confidence in him.
“Yes, playing top league in the Maldives for the last few seasons has boosted my confidence which is very important for playing at the top level,” Saqib told ‘The News’ in an interview on Friday.
Bannu-born Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) gloveman will join his Dhivehi Premier League team Foakaidhoo FC in June.
“I will join my team Foakaidhoo FC in June when the league starts. It normally lasts for ten months,” said Saqib, who is one of the frontline keepers of Pakistan. Denmark-based Yousuf Butt is the other who has been attached with the national side for the last few years.Saqib was part of Pakistan’s mission in the SAFF Cup, Asian Games and during Pakistan’s tour of Qatar last year.
He missed Pakistan’s tour of Palestine for a FIFA friendly last year due to his club commitment.Saqib will play his second straight season for Foakaidhoo FC, an island side which finished in the top five last season.
Having a strong system at the grassroots level, the Maldives have emerged as the most competitive side in the South Asian region despite its small population. Players from around the world play in Maldives’ top league. “Its league has players from Brazil, Spain and other developed footballing nations. It’s a healthy league and the clubs look after their players quite nicely throughout,” Saqib said.
As the future of Pakistan’s football is uncertain with the matter in the court of FIFA, the league in Maldives has been playing a key role in Saqib’s build-up.“Yes, it keeps me fit,” Saqib said.
Maldives’ Premier League carries ten teams and they play against each other on home and away basis. A team plays a match after seven to eight days.
Saqib, a former KRL player, said the Maldives have developed a sound football system with each club having players at different age-groups. “They also organise their leagues and that is the main reason that they get solid players for their national team,” Saqib said.
He was also full of praise for his SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi for the way he looks after him. “Tariq is a very good coach. I am enjoying playing in SSGC. He is highly supportive and always backs me. I really love playing in SSGC. And that is the main reason why I left KRL and joined SSGC,” Saqib said.
Before joining Foakaidhoo FC last season, Saqib played for a couple of seasons for Maldives’ BG Sports.Saqib has also the experience of playing in the Maldives second division league for one season.Saqib is given 2000 US dollars per month by his current club even after meeting all his expenses.
As Pakistan’s participation in the forthcoming Olympic and World Cup qualifiers is in doubt, foreign leagues could be the target of most of the top national footballers. The country’s leading striker Kaleemullah has recently signed an Iraqi club Al-Najaf FC for a decent purse.
Having played in the United Soccer League, Kaleem had moved to Turkey to play amateur league for some time before he was signed by Al-Najaf FC, who have the experience of playing in the AFC Champions League.