by Umaid Wasim
ISLAMABAD: Former French footballer Nicolas Anelka’s arrival in Pakistan for a second time on Wednesday saw the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) agree to a partnership with the Touch Sky Group to develop football in the country.
Anelka arrived in Islamabad to promote the upcoming World Soccer Stars event, which will see two exhibition matches featuring former footballers being played in the country next month. The World Soccer Stars event, being organised by TSG is aimed at engaging the local market in the game, with the UK-based player and match agents aiming to expand further and developing grassroots football with the PFF.
The partnership comes a day after vociferous opposition to the PFF signing a 15-year Memorandum of Understanding with TSG during its executive committee meeting in Lahore. On Tuesday, PFF chief Ashfaq Hussain Shah, sitting alongside Anelka at a news conference, claimed the initial agreement is to hold a domestic league in two years’ time with TSG fronting the investment.
An unsigned draft of the proposed MoU which is available with Dawn showed that TSG wanted full rights for two football tournaments, a franchise-based league and a rebranded version of the local Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL).
“We want to hold a league tournament soon so as to resume footballing activity here,” said Ashfaq, the chief of the cash-strapped PFF which has seen funding from FIFA and the AFC suspended.
The funding was suspended after Ashfaq was elected PFF chief in December in an election ordered by the Supreme Court. FIFA claims that election is “third-party interference” and it recognises former PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat as the country’s football head.
Football in Pakistan has been hit by turmoil in the last several years leading up to the court-ordered election with the PPFL only resuming last year after a three-year gap.
“If someone wants to invest in football, we welcome them with open hands,” said Ashfaq.
TSG CEO Ahmer Kunwer pointed to “having worked with 89 players as agents” as his credentials for working on developing players in Pakistan.
Over recent months, Kunwer has been promoting the World Soccer Stars event, which kicked off with the arrival of Portugal legend Luis Figo and Brazilian great Kaka in January. He’s also since met Prime Minister Imran Khan and has been appointed onto the Task Force for Sports that was made by the prime minister.
“I have full support from the government to come here and work for the development of football and establish a football league,” Kunwer told Dawn ahead of the press conference.
There remains little clarity however how this agreement will work for now with PFF claiming that they will work with TSG on grassroots level. Financial gains for investors in football usually come through a franchise-based league with Kunwer stating that the ultimate aim was to have a “football league on the lines of cricket’s Pakistan Super League (PSL)”.
Dawn has learnt that the PFF’s plan on grassroots level was to start of with an inter-club league before an inter-district and an inter-provincial league. It is hard to see however how the tier-wise structure will gather investors.
“The execution of the whole plan requires a sum of Rs84 million,” said Sharafat Bukhari, the interim PFF secretary general who was replaced by Siddique Sheikh on Tuesday.
However, the tier-wise system seems the first step towards plans for a franchise-based league. “We need to identify talent first, establish a pool of players that will be worked upon and eventually become part of the league,” Kunwer said.
Anelka has vowed to be part of the talent-hunt process. “The process isn’t easy and its a long term project,” he told Dawn. “The idea was to first bring big names and make sure people are developing a test for football. From what I’ve seen so far, they love it. I will come again for this.”
Anelka first came to Pakistan as part of a ‘Ronaldinho & Friends’ tour in July 2017, organised by Leisure Leagues in which two exhibition matches were held. TSG was then the vendor for Leisure Leagues but since then their association has ended with both companies accusing each other of wrongdoing.
The News’ Alam Zeb Safi adds
KARACHI: Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) president Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah on Tuesday said that they had reached very close to signing a partnership deal with the TouchSky Group for the development of football in Pakistan.
“We are in negotiations for football development with TSG and are very close to a solid partnership which I believe will be helpful for football development,” Ashfaq told ‘The News’ after meeting with the company’s head Ahmer Kunwar and former France international footballer Nicolas Anelka in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Anelka landed in the federal capital on Tuesday. He addressed a news conference with Ashfaq.Anelka has already announced that he would be part of the World Soccer Stars 2019, in which a couple of football matches would be played at Karachi and Lahore in the last week of April.
Anelka is the third global star who visited Pakistan during the last couple of months in connection with the promotion activities for the World Soccer Stars 2019. Brazilian legend Ricardo Kaka and Portugal’s star Luis Figo had toured Karachi and Lahore in January for formal launch of the event which is being organised by England-based TSG.
“We discussed in length various subjects relating to football development. We told them that the PFF does not want anything in cash but it wants to strictly implement its ambitious plan for football progress at various levels. I told them that I wanted everything in a very very transparent way. We will do only those things which will help our football,” Ashfaq said.
When asked whether TSG would support building Pakistan Premier League, Ashfaq said: “It was its main objective.”TSG chief Ahmer has been taking interest in Pakistan’s football. He was also seen witnessing the last league game of the Premier League in January here at the KPT Stadium.
Ashfaq said that the PFF had already prepared a packed calendar for the current year. “We will have events at various levels. You know our federation is cash-starved but we will try our best. We want to take the sport to streets and are determined to form a strong base for future national duty,” said Ashfaq, an engineer by profession.
To a query about the newly elected secretary of PFF Siddiq Sheikh, Ashfaq said that he would have to choose one job. “I don’t know whether he is an employee of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). If he is attached with the CAA then definitely he will have to leave that job because working as a PFF secretary is a full time job,” Ashfaq clarified.
Earlier, Anelka told the news conference that he had visited Pakistan a couple of years ago. He said he had played a lot of football and now wanted to pass on his experience to others.Anelka said cricket was the leading game in Pakistan, but he hoped that one day football would also be brought to the top level.
“There is an abundance of talent in Pakistan and hopefully this long-term programme will prove helpful for Pakistan football,” former Chelsea and Real Madrid star said.Ashfaq-led PFF was formed as a result of the elections conducted under the instructions of the Supreme Court last year.
But it is not recognised by the world football governing body (FIFA). FIFA still recognises Faisal Saleh Hayat-led PFF. Ashfaq’s body on Monday took major decisions at the ExCo meeting at Lahore. The decisions are to be ratified by Congress which will meet on March 26.
ISLAMABAD – French footballer Nicolas Anelka has promised to help Pakistani kids in the best possible fashion and he is always ready to travel to Pakistan, whenever, Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) or government needs his services.
“I came two years ago in Pakistan. I am playing football for last two decades. Pakistan number one sports is cricket, but the new generation wants to play soccer. I know Pakistan has a lot of talent and it’s a long-term project to develop soccer in Pakistan,” said French star Anelka while addressing a press conference here on Tuesday. Also present on the occasion were PFF chief Syed Ashfaq Shah, Touchsky Group CEO Ahmer Kunwar, Head of Robert Lewis Group Robert and Bilal Lashari.
He said, “My ambition is to see Pakistani talent play in major soccer leagues of the world. I know it’s not easy, but with the help of PFF and TouchSky Group and people of Pakistan, we can fulfill our dream. We are going to play World Soccer Stars event taking place on April 27 in Karachi and on 28 in Lahore, in which top soccer stars will feature alongside Pakistani players.”
Sharing his views, Muhamamd Abdullah of Pakistan Street Child Football team said: “When we were going to represent Pakistan, we didn’t have resources nor team. The Muslim Hands gave us lifeline and conducted talent-hunt programme and assembled us. Rashid was our coach and we went to Russia and everybody knows, we played the final, where we lost unfortunately. But it is an honour to become second in 24 teams. We were promised of a platform in Pakistan. We have an academy in AJK and play there. We have a proper contract and salaries.”
Pakistani football fans have been thrilled ever since football legends Kaka and Figo visited the country in January and announced the World Soccer Stars Event scheduled this year in April 2019. Now the most anticipated Pakistani epic action drama film “The Legend of Maula Jatt” has partnered with this event to promote a soft image of the country internationally. Ahmer Kunwar CEO of TouchSky Group, Nicolas Anelka former footballer, Syed Ashfaq Shah PFF chief, Robert and Bilal Lashari, Director of The Legend of Maula Jatt were part of the panel.
Speaking on the occasion, Bilal Lashari said: “The partnership between ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’ and World Soccer Stars (WSS) brings together sports and entertainment on one platform like never before. I believe that both the film and WSS mark a series of many firsts and brings together two of the most anticipated events of the year together. We will be making an exciting announcement at the opening ceremony and have our stars welcome football legends to Pakistan on 27th April in Karachi.”
The World Soccer Stars (WSS) promises to be the greatest football spectacle in Pakistan, starting from April 26 to 29, with two matches in Karachi and Lahore respectively.