by Mir Shabbar Ali
KARACHI: Faisal Saleh Hayat is not the president of Pakistan Football Federation president anymore and the country’s top player Kaleemullah Khan is happy that it has finally happened.
However, Kaleemullah is not celebrating Hayat’s oust. For the former Pakistan captain, it’s not only about himself despite being on Hayat’s radar for being outspoken and truthful.
“I am happy that the Faisal group is gone now. Not because I have something personal against them, but because they did not do anything for the betterment of Pakistan football,” Kaleemullah told Dawn.
“The failed to build even a single training ground for the national team, let alone building a stadium,” he said.
“They cared more about power than football and the players.”
Hayat’s reign as PFF president finally ended after the world football governing body FIFA interfered following almost five years of political turmoil which started after the controversial Punjab Football Associations elections in 2015.
The PFF was divided into two factions who wrestled for power in the local courts until the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered elections which resulted in the election of Ashfaq Hussain Shah as the president. FIFA, however, refused to recognise the Ashfaq-led PFF due to government interference and for the Hayat was still president.
Later, understanding the mess Pakistan football was in, FIFA appointed a Normalisation Committee earlier this year. The step meant the PFF was dissolved as well. The committee now faces a mammoth task of club scrutiny and conducting elections by June 2020.
Kaleemullah’s hoped the appointment of the Normalisation Committee will help Pakistan football get on the right track and urged work to be done at the grassroots level.
“I hope they work to develop football from the grassroots level and are successful in delivering free and fair elections next year,” said the 27-year-old forward.
“Football has badly suffered in the last five, six years. We badly need a professional environment in Pakistan so that players can prepare themselves to be world class.”
Kaleemullah, who plays for Iraqi Premier League side Zakho FC, can talk about professional environment and at the same time knows how difficult it has been for his fellows back home.
Hailing from Chaman, and rising through the ranks locally, Kaleemullah made it to professional leagues in Krygyzstan, the United States, Turkey and now Iraq.
However, his heavy profile was ignored and he did not feature in Pakistan’s most important fixtures recently because he raised his voice for the rights of the country’s footballers.
Ahead of the 2018 Asian Games and the SAFF Cup, Kaleemullah was asked to leave the national team’s camp in Lahore. The reason? He criticised the PFF for not providing top facilities to players who were there to represent the country.
“I was not allowed to play in the team because I raised my voice for better facilities for the players. I got vocal about the lack of facilities which were required for international footballers to train. It did not impress Hayat,” said Kaleemullah.
Kaleemullah said he was told that he needed to stay quiet about the prevailing problems if he wanted to play for Pakistan.
“I was communicated through my cousin Essa Khan, who was a part of the national team coaching staff then, that I needed to stay quiet if I wanted to be allowed to play for Pakistan,” said the forward.
“But I thought who would raise voice for the players if I don’t do it. I was also advised by a journalist that I need to calm down and not say the truth. He was talking on behalf of Hayat”
In May this year, another bizarre situation took place ahead of Pakistan’s World Cup qualifier first round match against Cambodia. The court-appointed PFF in Pakistan and Hayat’s body recognised by FIFA both set up separate training camps with players forced to choose between playing for Pakistan and following the rule of law in the country.
Pakistan head coach Jose Antonio Nogueira ended up fielding a side full of foreign-based Pakistani players. Pakistan lost 5-0 to Cambodia over two legs.
According to Kaleemullah, the Ashfaq group offered Hayat to forget the rivalry and field a balance side which contained a mix of local and foreign-based players. But Hayat rejected the offer.
“During the Cambodia matches the Ashfaq group asked Hayat to cooperate and ensure a good team is sent to play but Faisal didn’t care about the result and we conceded five goals against a very weak international side,” Kaleemullah claimed.
The former Khan Research Laboratories player said the players who featured in the match came to play to add the experience of international football in their CVs.