by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: On his day-trip to Karachi, Michael Owen broke new ground and even saw his penalty saved.
He did get it right with his next penalty on the football pitch of NED University of Engineering and Technology, which is being transformed into “the first-ever Soccer City” in Pakistan by Owen-led Global Soccer Ventures.
Moments earlier, the former England international striker unveiled the plaque during the ground-breaking ceremony for the stadium which is expected to be completed by this year.
GSV, which is looking to organise the Pakistan Football League — the first franchise football league in the country — with Owen as its global brand ambassador, has inked a US$12 million with the NED University to create what it called a “modern” football arena.
The ceremony on Wednesday was to unveil the plans for its design. Yet, the three-dimensional video of its proposed design had a conceptual difference to how modern football venues are constructed: there is a running track between the pitch and the stands.
Asked by Dawn during a news conference whether he felt the design was of bygone football arenas, Owen reminisced about the Munich Olympiastadion — the venue where he scored his only international hat-trick — which also has a running track around the pitch.
“I scored a hat-trick in a stadium which had a running track around it and it felt great,” said the 42-year-old about his three goals against Germany in England’s famous 5-1 World Cup qualifying win over their storied rivals.
The only problem with that: it was more than two decades ago in September 2001. Since then the Munich Olympiastadion’s most famous residents, Bayern Munich have moved to the Allianz Arena, which doesn’t have a running track, meaning fans can be closer to the action.
Other teams across the world have also left outdated Olympic arenas with running tracks around the pitch, including Italian giants Juventus who have moved to the Allianz Stadium from the Stadio Delle Alpi.
Owen, though, was excited at the plans. “The proposed plan fills me with excitement,” he said.
NED University vice-chancellor Dr Sarosh Hashmat Lodhi, meanwhile, sought to defend the plans. “The track is valuable to us,” he said. “We are engineers and we will build engineering solutions around it.”
Dr Sarosh added that regulations had been fully followed in the deal between the government institution and GSV.
“There are regulations that have been followed for public-private partnerships,” he said. “The facility will be ours but it will operate on joint-usage with it being handed to the GSV during the PFL.”
Following the press conference, Liverpool great Owen and Pakistan captain Saddam Hussain took to the pitch where they took penalties against the goalkeeper of the NED University team.
Owen’s first effort was punched away while Saddam blazed over. But Owen turned back the years with his second penalty, finding the bottom corner, before heading to the centre of the pitch where there was confetti and fireworks.
The stadium is the first step for the GSV to hold its proposed PFL, on similar lines to cricket’s glitzy Pakistan Super League.
Apart from the PFL, GSV has also joined hands with the government in its Kamyab Jawan programme which has seen it hold talent hunts across the country to find the best 20 under-19 players who will go on to train with Irish club St Patrick’s Athletic.
That has seen GSV garner strong support from the government and the Pakistan Army to push ahead with its plans to hold the PFL even though it has failed to strike a deal with the FIFA-appointed Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee.“We approached PFF NC chairman Haroon Malik to join us but he refused,” GSV chief executive officer Zabe Khan told Dawn on Wednesday. Haroon, who has plans to set up his own league, did not respond to Dawn when asked to confirm if he’d refused.
GSV had earlier inked a 10-year deal with the court-elected PFF of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, whose takeover of the PFF headquarters from the NC saw FIFA suspend Pakistan in April last year.
The suspension will continue until the PFF headquarters is handed back to the NC. Ashfaq and his group of officials, who came to power after the Supreme Court held an election of the PFF which wasn’t recognised by FIFA, have been evicted from office themselves due to an issue surrounding its lease agreement.
That effectively means that the contract signed between GSV and Ashfaq’s PFF is up in the air. But while the government is supporting the PFF NC, it is also backing GSV to promote football in the country.
Owen, a winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or in 2001, was in Islamabad on Tuesday where he held meetings with President Dr Arif Alvi and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
He attended a reception at the Sindh Governor’s House on Wednesday evening and will be in Lahore on Thursday to attend a trials session there.