KARACHI: A footballer's life, in most parts of the world, is one of fame, pomp and riches. In Pakistan, a career in football accompanies misery rather than luxury, neglect rather than stardom.
The ugly truth underneath the beautiful game in the country was never more evident as in the case of recently deceased Pakistani footballer Muhammad Touseef Ahmed.
The 24-year-old Lesco captain passed away on Monday night in pain and in obscurity; at an age when he should've been approaching his footballing prime.
While death is imminent, in Touseef's case it came too soon and for reasons all too painfully avoidable; if only the powers that be paid more attention to him.
The twice-capped Pakistan midfielder's troubles began following a serious knee injury while representing the national team against Palestine in 2011.
The awkward landing did not just tear a ligament in his left knee, it also tore up his career. He went from hot commodity to a discarded has-been in the blink of an eye. The Pakistan Football Federation made empty promises but in reality never cared of how their knackered star was doing.
Deprived of all funds and medical guidance, Touseef was bandied around by surgeons and homeopathic doctors before he fell into the hands of quacks.
In times when orthopaedic science has developed to a point where practically any sort of knee damage is repairable, Touseef — one of Pakistan's better footballers — fell prey to medical malpractice.
The pain never subsided following his surgery and, after years of being in the wrong medical hands, when he did find the right help it was too late. The sugar levels in his blood had reached a point where there was nothing the doctors could do.
“Touseef's injury was a bad one,” recalled former Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi while talking to The Express Tribune. “The federation had even released a statement that they would help him, but I guess that never happened. He was never the same player after the injury. Players should get full medical coverage from their own departments so in case they do pick up injuries then they get the best medical treatment."
Lutfi then blew the lid off a worrying practice in the underprivileged football community.
“Most players in Pakistan team come from humble backgrounds; they don’t have the means to get the surgeries done so they resort to cheaper means when in pain or simply go to quacks who usually have no idea what they're doing. I feel Touseef’s was the same case. He just went to a quack that eventually caused his untimely demise.”
Naeem's close friend and Lesco teammate Naeemullah corroborated Lutfi's hunch, adding how a local homeopath played a major role in Touseef's condition deteriorating to that extent.
"He went to a local homeopath by the name of Dr Salim and overdosed on his medicine in his final few days," said Naeem.
It doesn't come as a surprise then that another local footballer named Ali Sher was also being treated by the same homeopath and died a few weeks before Touseef's breathed his last breath.
"When Ali passed away we really didn’t know what happened but after Touseef we suspect foul play,” said Naeem. “We’ve decided to get the said doctor's medicine checked from a laboratory."
But the excruciating pain of his bad knee was nothing in comparison to the one caused by the PFF's behaviour during his tragedy.
“Touseef kept on calling the PFF management; he even went to Lahore and tried to speak to the officials personally,” recalled Naeem. “But none of them even asked how he was doing after the injury. At one point PFF officials stopped receiving his calls. He was disheartened that one moment he was the star player from Faisalabad, getting praises from everyone, and in the next he was nothing. He almost begged the PFF for the help before coming to terms with the reality and stopping.”
In the light of Touseef's tragedy, Wapda captain Arif Mehmood also took aim at departments, saying: “We represent these departments but if one gets sick or injured then they are left to rot on their own. Touseef’s case is the same."