by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: In only their first professional season, Masha United have secured a berth in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL).
A goalless draw against Pakistan Railways on Friday confirmed that they will be one of the three departmental teams to be promoted from the Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL), which draws to a close on Sunday.
Their rise to the top tier is an incredible story of determination, hope and ambition and with them, former Pakistan star cricketer Shahid Afridi is making his first foray into Pakistan football.
The Shahid Afridi Foundation has linked up with Masha United as its sponsor and the side, only formed in 2019, have roped in the experienced Nasir Ismail as head coach for the upcoming PPFL season.
“He [Afridi] said its an incredible achievement that we’ve secured promotion to the PPFL in our first ever season,” Wasif Naeem, the team’s current head coach, told Dawn on Friday, regarding Afridi’s meeting with the team on the eve of their final game of the PFFL. “He told the players to avail this time and reach further heights.”
Masha ended the final round of the PFFL with 11 points from their five games. The season began in March before being suspended for five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first round, Masha United had advanced from a group containing Railways, Atletico Madrid Lahore and Hazara Coal Company.
With ‘Hope – Not Out’ — the slogan of the Shahid Afridi Foundation — emblazoned on their tops, Masha took to the pitch at the Drigh Road Union Ground here against Railways all but certain of securing a place in the PPFL.
With Nasir looking on from the stands, it was a dour display from the side which is going to finish top of the final round standings ahead of sides including their opponents, Karachi United, Pakistan Police, Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency and Gwadar Port Authority.
“It’s a work in progress,” Nasir told Dawn, looking ahead of his upcoming assignment. “There are several departments the team has to improve if it is to survive in the PPFL.”
Masha is largely made up from players from a village near Faisalabad and was made into a departmental team by its patron-in-chief Rai Intikhab.
“The players mostly hail from the village where the club is based,” informed Wasif, who has formerly played for Wapda — one of Pakistan’s illustrious football teams. “After the team was formed, we played in several All-Pakistan tournaments and we reached four finals. This time, however, we’ve been able to finish on top.”
Staying in the top tier though will require more investment from Intikhab, who Wasif told was a member of the Shahid Afridi Foundation.
“We’re going to be organising talent hunts and will sign more players,” said Nasir, who was formerly head coach of PPFL side National Bank of Pakistan. “I’m hopeful I can make this side into a fighting unit in the PPFL.”
Masha’s journey to the top is an inspiring one and comes with Pakistan football having been in doldrums for the better part of the last decade due to infighting in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). And for a team that plays with the slogan of never-ending hope on its shirts, it offers hope for the future of football in the country.