by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) returns after a 2½-year gap in Multan on Saturday, with the country’s top division in the hands of the Pakistan Football Federation which concluded the last completed edition.
Then the PFF of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, fresh from winning an election of the country’s football governing body held under the orders of the Supreme Court, took control of the PPFL from the PFF led by Faisal Saleh Hayat, which was recognised by FIFA.
The takeover of the league took place when it was nearing its end, and another takeover has now seen the new season of the league begin.
The landscape of Pakistan football has changed drastically in the intervening years with FIFA appointing a Normalisation Committee to oversee PFF affairs, ending Hayat’s 16-year reign as PFF chief and Ashfaq’s faction handing over the headquarters to the NC in September 2019, only to take it back in March this year, leading to a suspension on Pakistan by the global football body.
It means the current edition of the PPFL is naturally not going to be recognised by FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation, and the eventual winners not going on to take part in AFC club competition. That wouldn’t have happened if the NC had held the PPFL either with none of the participating team fulfilling AFC’s club licensing requirements.
“What we really want is football to resume regardless of who holds it,” former Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi, who will lead Sui Southern Gas Company in the latest edition of the PPFL, told Dawn on Friday. “Football has suffered, the players have suffered and so have the teams. So this something we’re really looking forward to.”
While the NC didn’t organise the PPFL during its 18-month charge, with two different chairmen at the helm, but it did hold the second-division Pakistan Football Federation League, and it saw Karachi United, Masha United, Gwadar Port Authority and Baloch FC earning promotion.
But from those four only Karachi United, whose promotion drew lots of noise from several quarters since their former player Humza Khan was then the NC chairman, are taking part in this season’s PPFL with the others refusing to take part in an league not sanctioned by the NC.
Lyallpur FC and Islamabad’s Huma FC are playing in place of those teams that opted not to participate.
“Football has suffered badly due to the PFF crisis but we’re happy that the league is back on,” Mohammad Habib, the coach of Lyallpur — who were relegated from the PPFL back in 2014, told Dawn on Friday.
Those teams will now square off against some of Pakistan football’s more illustrious names including defending champions Khan Research Laboratories, Wapda and Pakistan Army.
This season’s PPFL is likely to act as a prelude to the inaugural season of the franchise-based Pakistan Football League, with Ashfaq’s PFF having signed a 15-year agreement with Global Soccer Ventures earlier this month for organising it.
Haroon Malik, who took over from Humza as the PFF NC chief in January this year, has served a legal notice to GSV for entering into an agreement with “an illegal faction”, saying he sought “to protects the rights of the PFF”.
Holding a franchise football league in Pakistan has turned into a growing obsession in Pakistan, with several other parties having explored it in the recent past, but GSV has become the first to make a formal announcement. Haroon himself wants to organise a league in Pakistan.
“I don’t hide the fact that I want to hold a league myself,” Haroon told Dawn on Thursday night, when the news of the legal notice came through.
In the notice against GSV, Haroon is being represented by the Kilam law firm, where his NC member Barrister Haris Azmat is a senior partner.
The NC has regained access to the PFF accounts but the FIFA suspension will remain until it secures control of the PFF headquarters.
Haroon was asked whether he felt GSV’s move to announce the franchise league at this point was due to the fact that it wouldn’t have been approved by the NC because of his own interests in holding one, he said: “I wouldn’t have given myself the rights to hold it … the powers to approve it is with the PFF that comes in from the elections held by the NC.”
The GSV contends that its agreement is with the PFF that is recognised by the country’s apex court.
The NC earlier tried to warn players and teams from taking part in events that are being organised by Ashfaq’s PFF. Only a few have paid heed to it.“At the end of it all, the point is that we just want to play regardless of who organises it,” KRL manager Ayaz Butt told Dawn on Friday. “That’s what we all care about.”