by Alam Zeb Safi
Pakistan football has been damaged during the last five and a half years due to the infighting of officials. It would be a Herculean task for the next representative federation to repair the damages.
The grooming period of several batches got wasted because they could not feature in their respective age-group continental competitions. Because of this issue the country has failed to form back-up age-group teams and even senior team selectors will have to face a big issue.
In 2015 Pakistan played 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and 2016 AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers. Those boys who featured in the under-22 event will now be in the 27-year bracket which is alarming. In Pakistan a footballer’s life is not that long and it is always difficult for a player to play once he is over 27. Only those players could play long who take good diet and treat themselves like professionals. But sadly that practice is not here.
Most of the senior team players who played in the World Cup qualifiers in 2015 are now in the 30-year bracket. Bahraini coach Mohammed Shamlan formed that team for the World Cup qualifiers, which also had some under-22 players.
Pakistan then missed the 2018 AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers held in 2017.
In that event those players could play who had played AFC Under-19 Championship Qualifiers in 2013.
In 2015 and 2017, Pakistan missed AFC Under-19 Championship Qualifiers. Pakistan, eventually featured in the continental Under-19 qualifiers in 2019.
The two under-19 events which we have missed in four years will leave a huge vacuum and we will have no back-up available for the senior side in near future.
Similarly, in 2015 and 2017, Pakistan missed AFC Under-16 Championship qualifiers. Eventually in 2019 Pakistan featured in Under-16 qualifiers. Those players who missed 2015 and 2017 Under-16 qualifiers can play the next year’s AFC Under-22 Championship qualifiers. But the issue is that they have not been groomed.
Similarly, Pakistan will also have to form a completely new Under-16 team next year which will have no international experience. Next year the under-19 team will be formed from the lot which claimed silver medal in SAFF Under-15 Championship in Nepal in late 2018 under the watch of Brazilian coach Portella.
Not a single player of that batch has played in 2019 and 2020. Last year while constituting the Under-19 team for continental qualifiers national selectors made a mistake by putting a restriction that only the players born in 2001 and 2002 were eligible. In that team the boys born in 2003 and 2004 were also eligible to play according to the AFC rules. And among those players not considered for last year’s AFC Under-19 Championship qualifiers there were those who lost the final against Bangladesh under Portella as I mentioned above.
For next year’s Under-22 qualifiers Pakistan has no batch. The last year’s under-19 players can be played in that.
Now we come to the senior players. I don’t think that players like Saadullah, Mohammad Adil, Saddam Hussain, Kaleemullah and Mehmood Khan have enough gas left in their tanks as they have entered into the twilight of their careers.
Similarly, Denmark-based players Hasan Bashir, Yousuf Butt, Yaqoob Butt and Mohammad Ali will not have much energy left in them. It would be useless to continue picking them for national duty anymore because of their age.
Because of the playing drought Pakistan also failed to conduct the Premier League for four seasons. A player generally earns around Rs500,000 per season. This is the lowest income bracket as some departments give their players more money in terms of various allowances during the league. Those players who earn Rs35,000 monthly in terms of salary must have been through a very hard time during these last five years.
During this time coaches were also not groomed. Their progress suffered a lot. The last time Pakistan sent coaches to Bahrain in 2014 for AFC License A coaching course.
The new federation, which will be formed in the scheduled elections under the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee, will have to face tough challenges and it will need to work extra hard to repair the damages.
The Normalisation Committee should work hard and ensure the PFF elections within the stipulated time-period until December 30, 2020, so that a new representative federation could make an ambitious plan for football development and begin vigorous activities. If the league is held then it should be made compulsory that every league unit will also form its under-19 team.
The AFC Club Licensing process should also be completed so that Pakistani clubs could become eligible to participate in the AFC Cup play-offs.