2019 World Cup qualifiers: Is India better than Pakistan?
Football has never been able to achieve much recognition as a professional sport in Pakistan, even though there are many Pakistani football fans present. This is perhaps because most of our attention is reserved for cricket exclusively and hence, like all other sports, football too has suffered.
The game has never been invested upon with the aim of building a professional team. Pakistan’s history of football is marked by its underachievement on both national and international levels and the country is perceived as minnow in this sport.
However, there have been surprising instances, where our team has accomplished great feats with little or no help from the government. For example, during the Merdeka Cup, the Pakistani side defeated Asian heavy weights like Japan (3-1) and Thailand (7-0) with tact and strategy. In November 1981, during the King’s Gold Cup in Thailand, Pakistan finished third, defeating sides like Malaysia and Singapore. Other remarkable achievements were witnessed during the South Asian Games of 1989 and 2004’s SAFF games.
So this goes to show that we have the talent – we only need the right push to use it effectively.
Currently, like all other sports, football is also going downhill. The state of Pakistani football can be compared to the provincial elections, which were a complete mockery.
Unfortunately, our national football team is struggling to make a mark in the FIFA-ranking table. Our optimism has increased with the current crop of players, who are showcasing their talent and traits in different foreign leagues, but, even with these positives available, the future of football in Pakistan seems bleak.
I had the chance of talking to Mr Shahrukh Sohail, the chief editor of Football-Pakistan (FPDC), whose main aim is to professionalise and promote Pakistani football. I asked him some significant questions related to Pakistan football and here is what he had to say.
Most of our players play abroad and in European leagues, yet our football team isn’t progressing; why is that so?
“Well, the Pakistan team and its coaches have never really warmed up to the foreign-contingent. We never call all the available players and even when we do, luck doesn’t favour us – some issue with injuries or omissions springs up. Lack of willpower in recruiting new players is also a big drawback. Nevertheless if we embrace our players properly, then we might be able to move forward.”
What are the current initiatives being taken to improve football in Pakistan?
“Little to no initiative has been taken to improve Pakistani football; whatever is being done is through the PFF.”
What is the ‘goal project’ and what does it aim to achieve?
“The goal project is designed to build artificial fields and football houses providing accommodation for the players. Despite being inaugurated since 2006, no such goal project has actually been implemented.”
What percentage of funds provided by FIFA are utilised and where are they used?
“FIFA provides an estimate of $1.5 million annually to Pakistan, but since the funds are not audited, we can’t be certain where they go.”
Finally, how do you think football in Pakistan can improve?
“We need to start with concerted efforts at grassroots level, followed by improvement in infrastructure and initiating football leagues, with an addition of liberal use of foreign-based players in the senior team.”
This short but insightful interview with Mr Sohail clearly explains the core problems of Pakistani football.
Similarly, PFF announced that it plans to rebrand Pakistan Premier Football League, which I feel is necessary as the football following in Pakistan is attaining new heights.
It’s time to capitalise on the football interest and fan following and endorse our domestic football leagues, just as India did with its Indian Super League. ISL is an ideally publicised league with huge amounts of investment from big corporations, Bollywood stars, and the media.
Due to this, Indian football has reached new heights.
They also played in the world cup and UEFA Champions League, which consisted of winning stars like David Trezeguet and Alessandro Del PieroLuis García. Indian footballers have improved immensely, which is evident from their qualification into round two of the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.
Pakistan, however, still struggles on.
Furthermore, our team structure should be converted into a local team structure, which will garner support from the players’ local region. Likewise, we require trained coaches to teach our youngsters better techniques and skills, which would help in nurturing talented players in the long run.
Our playing style is currently pretty grungy, with the players relying mostly on long balls and not focusing on the importance of passing through midfield. Therefore, we need a better international manager with a superior philosophy to change our style of performance.
The PFF, under General Secretary Hafiz Sulman (1990-93), is considered to be the finest administrative period of Pakistani football but currently our progress in football is stagnant.
While Faisal Saleh Hayat has numerous positive changes in mind, I believe it’s time for a new vision and someone with innovative ideas to help invigorate our side. Therefore, I am keeping a close eye, just as every football fan in Pakistan should, on the PFA elections for the presidential post on the June 30th.