KARACHI: For a country less than the size of Karachi and one that isn't even recognised by most of the world, Northern Cyprus shouldn't be in a position that is enviable for Pakistan. Or to put it correctly, Pakistan — due to its size and resources — shouldn't be in a place from where even this tiny European nation looks a behemoth in comparison.
But as Pakistan midfielder Saddam Hussain would tell, there is daylight between the footballing standards of both nations.
Deprived of any kind of international or domestic football due to the infighting within the Pakistan Football Federation, Saddam, out of desperation, agreed to play for Larnaka Gençler Birliği SK in January.
For a star midfielder of a nation of almost 200million, this was supposed to be a step down, especially when his CV boasts previous stints at Kyrgyzstan’s FC Dorodi and Bahrain’s Isa Town FC. Not to mention that the entire population of his new host nation stands around a paltry one million.
With doubts in his mind, but no money in his pockets and half expecting to be disappointed, he took the plunge. This could be even worse than staying put, the pessimist in him would say.
A pleasant surprise awaited him on the island of Cyprus.
“Northern Cyprus is not a part of FIFA yet, but their standard of football is far better than it is in FIFA-affiliate Pakistan,” Saddam told The Express Tribune. “Despite being a non-FIFA country, the football culture in Northern Cyprus is much more lucrative and respectful than here. This small nation has come this far on their own, I wonder where they'll be if FIFA takes them in.”
Owing to its slight stature and FIFA snub, football in Northern Cyprus should be struggling for finances and interest. Saddam found it different.
"There are still many sponsors who support their clubs, the people also show up to see matches; everyone is supportive of the players," he said. "They also have a player of the week award which carries small prizes such as professional shoes, which might seem small reward but add up to make a huge difference."
The match fee, too, was far more than and given much more respectfully than how Saddam is used to getting back in his homeland.
“With Larnaka, we would get paid between $200 and $300 per match, right after the match, depending on the magnitude of the event," he said. "While in Pakistan, our departments keep us waiting for our monthly stipend to the point where it feels like we are charity cases."
In addition to money matters, Saddam was also impressed by the officiating standards in Northern Cyprus where players were protected by the referees as opposed to Pakistan, where only a severe injury warrants the dishing of cards.
“In Pakistan, the referees don't give yellow cards unless they see us bleed," he explains. "And then of course we don’t even get proper medical attention, while in Cyprus club physiotherapists used to work with us both before and after matches."
The disparity between two nations of contrasting sizes explains everything wrong with Pakistan football. It breaks Saddam's heart and forces him to appeal to the powers that be for the umpteenth time to mend their ways.
"The officials could’ve kept football out of their legal battles. Whose fight are they fighting really? It is not for the players' benefit, at least. I hope FIFA can see that we need football, we, the players are suffering, and PFF can understand that it has been a torture for us and they shouldn’t drag it,” said Saddam.
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