by Mir Shabbar Ali
Former England great Michael Owen believes that the franchise-based Pakistan Football League can lead to a ‘tenfold’ improvement of the sport in the country in the next decade.
Owen, who won the Ballon d’Or — football’s most prestigious individual award — in 2001, was announced as the brand ambassador of the PFL by its organisers Global Soccer Ventures on Friday.
The former Liverpool and Manchester United striker has signed a three-year deal with GSV, under which he will visit Pakistan to run a series of football master classes and formally unveil the PFL, a press release said.
It said Owen will also reveal the PFL logo “from the home of football in England in October”.
Owen had an honest outlook to the current state of football in Pakistan and admitted that the infrastructure for the sport is too poor to promise a world class national side. However, he was confident about the potential of the PFL.
“We’re starting from a scratch level and there’s no question that if the domestic league is successful it will have a huge knock on effect at the international team as well and football in Pakistan will improve tenfold in the next ten years. I’m pretty sure about that,” Owen told SAMAA Digital.
“We start with a blank canvas, and lets be honest, a really low level at the moment.
“Pakistan national team is not ranked too high in the FIFA rankings, which gives a good indication [of the situation].”
Owen said him, and GSV are not promising huge changes for Pakistan football in the coming years, adding that it is a long-term project.
“I’m not coming here and promising and I’m sure the organisers of the league aren’t promising that Pakistan are going to be the world champions in four years,” he said.
“We all understand that this is a new venture and its about potential at the moment and creating something that could grow.”
Owen did believe that the next decade or two can be used to put in the work that’s going to create a launching pad for the rise of Pakistan football.
“Who knows where it’s going to be in 10, 15, 20 years but its important that the foundations are put in now and sustainable foundations,” he said
“Things like academies, the facilities, the quality of players, all of these things are going to grow and improve in the coming years.”
Owen, who scored 150 Premier League goals during his 16-year career, said franchise leagues have helped many countries around the world to develop their football structure.
While there are success stories, he said, the struggling projects were also examples to learn from.
“We’ve so many countries around the world that have started leagues in the recent times. Some of them did fantastically well, some of the are stuggling, so we’ve to learn from those leagues as well,” said the 41-year-old.
“But I think its about time to have a professional league in Pakistan. Its a huge country with 220 million people, it surely has to be a country with untapped talent in football.”
Not trying to replace cricket
Cricket being the most popular sport in Pakistan, Owen said the idea was not to replace it with football. However, he said, the latter needed to make its own space.
“I don’t think the idea is to replace anything. I come from a country where we celebrate so many different sports,” said the England legend.
“So I think its only going to add to what is already there. Not everybody wants to play cricket, not everybody wants to play football,” he added.
Owen said the popularity of football is going to contribute positively to the social landscape of Pakistan and that’s what he thought needed to be celebrated.
“We’re trying to create something that’s bigger, that’s better to improve the lives of people, but from a health point of view and from a social point of view, something to be a part of, may be you’d want to support your local team,” he said.
“I’m a cricket fan, I watch cricket all the time but its not about replacing it with football but just helping the popularity of it growing in Pakistan.”
Pakistan Football League
The PFL will feature franchise teams named after Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Islamabad, Peshawar and Multan. They are expected to be awarded to eligible bidders by next month.
Owen’s hybrid role includes creating a global professional gateway for a new crop of football players in Pakistan who can adapt to the modern game of football.
CEO GSV Zabe Khan said the partnership will play an important part in the development of Pakistan football.
“I am pleased to see Michael play a pivotal role in creating a new era of football in Pakistan. This is a striking partnership to help Pakistan move the goal posts to international development of football,” he said.
The PFL joining hands with Owen is expected to help GSV link the franchises with the top clubs in England.
Watch the video below to know more about the PFL
FIFA’s ban on Pakistan
The PFL was announced two months ago, at a time when the Pakistan Football Federation is banned world football governing body FIFA.
Pakistan was suspended after the Ashfaq Hussain Shah group took over the PFF headquarters in March.
The group ousted the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee which was in place with a mandate to conduct fresh elections of the federation to put an end to a long-standing political dispute between two warring groups.