KARACHI: Hardly any Pakistani footballer owns a car. Most of them use motorcycles when they go to play their league matches. This makes them less inspirational for youngsters who want to play but are reluctant because of the little monetary benefit the sport offers in Pakistan. A few departments offer good salaries to their players but most footballers earn so little that they are unable to support their families well.
Pakistan football team captain Saddam Hussain agrees to this. “Yes, the basic issue is how much you value your players,” Saddam told ‘The News’ in an interview. “High status acts as a motivational factor. We don’t have that,” he said.
“How can youth be inspired when they see Pakistan’s star players living in abject conditions!” Saddam said. “In India players are highly valued. Look at India’s skipper Sunil Chhetri. He has so many sponsors. Players’ social status has its value and plays a key role in the sport’s development,” the Pakistan captain said.
He said that if a PSL-type football league was organised it would enable players to earn more money and build their status. “This will have a huge impact on the sport,” said Saddam, who can play at any position.
He said he had played around ten matches against India but the series winning game against the arch-rivals at the Bangalore Stadium in 2014 was the most memorable one. “It was a superb win as we beat India in the two-match series on goal-average,” Saddam recalled.
After losing the first game 0-1 Pakistan fought back strongly as they downed India 2-0 in their second and last outing of the two-match series to seal the series on goal-average. Saddam and skipper Kaleemullah scored one goal apiece in that game.
Saddam has represented Pakistan in the previous three Asian Games. He led the side in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia in which Pakistan beat Nepal to pull off their first win in 21 years in the Games history.
Saddam, who captained Pakistan in AFC Under-19 Championships qualifiers in 2010 in Iran, said he feels doubly energised when he plays against India. “Playing against India is always special. When you are loyal to your country and play under your flag you feel ecstatic,” he added.
To a question, Saddam said that pressure is definitely there during matches against India. “Traditional rivalry counts. Yes, pressure is there when we play against India. But I play positive and disciplined football and God helps me,” said Saddam, who lives in Malir area of Karachi.
All his cousins play football but he is the only one who has played the game at the highest level. He used to play for Malir Shaheen FC in the initial days of his career. He toured India for the first time in 2011 when Jaffar Khan was Pakistan captain and Serbian Zavisa Milosavljevic was the coach. Saddam has so far played 15 international matches for the senior team. On that tour he was played as midfielder.
To a query, Saddam said that the most sensational moment of his career was when he was offered a contract by Kyrgyzstan’s club Dordoi. “That was an emotional moment,” Saddam recalled. “I was very happy as it was a turning point of my career. I myself was dealing the whole contract and also used to email Zavisa, who was Dordoi’s coach. It was a new experience for me. At that time Asim, who was working in the IT wing of the PFF, helped me,” said Saddam, who later also played for Isa Town FC of Bahrain and a club in Cyprus for two seasons.
He said that the last five years in which Pakistan football remained mostly suspended were the most difficult of his career. “Obviously these five years have been very tough. No leagues, no foreign tours, no professional leagues and definitely such things incurred huge damage on every player,” he added.
When asked about his experience of playing with foreign-based Pakistani footballers, Saddam said he had good experience of playing with them. “Personally I always think positive. I enjoyed playing with them as they are also my brothers. Yes, I will appreciate if any outstanding foreign-based player plays for Pakistan team. They should be much better as compared to the home-grown players. For example if a foreign-based striker is better than Kaleem then yes you can give him a chance,” said Saddam, who practises at home these days. He has purchased training equipment and is keeping himself fit amid the country-wide lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic.