KARACHI: Former French footballer and global icon Nicolas Anelka has agreed to work with the newly-elected Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), while its president Ashfaq Hussain believes it is a positive step forward to be joining hands with the TouchSky Group (TSG) in an attempt to rebuild the grass-roots level of the sport.
Anelka was on a day-long visit to Islamabad where he met the PFF president and later was among the fans at the Centaurus Mall, along with promoting TSG's World Soccer Stars event by collaborating with the movie 'The Legend of Maula Jatt'.
Earlier TSG had brought in Brazilian legend Ricardo Kaka and Portuguese icon Luis Figo in January to set the ball rolling for the main event in April that will see two exhibition matches in Karachi and Lahore from April 26 till 29.
But after meeting with Anelka, who had also embraced Islam, Hussain said it was the most wonderful experience of his life.
"It was a wonderful experience of my life, to have met the people who have vision and who are willing to help," Hussain told The Express Tribune. "It is for the future of Pakistan football."
While Hussain's body is still not recognised by Fifa and Asian Football Confederation (AFC), he is the PFF president according to the new elections that were held in December on Supreme Court's orders, but the tug of war is due to Makhdoon Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, who has the backing of the international governing bodies of the sport.
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Hayat had been holding the participation of the national teams hostage despite having no part to play at the domestic level or with the PFF anymore, but still he is running for the AFC vice-presidency.
However, Hussain had earlier said that his faction is in talks with Fifa and AFC too, on the other hand, his agenda is clear: the betterment of football in Pakistan.
"The agenda is clear, it will be open for general public to see as well; growth and progress," said Hussain. "I'm very affirmative on this. With TSG too we are in negotiations. We want to work on grass-roots level. In the first stage we'll work on domestic football for a few years and then ultimately the league."
Hussain answered his critics by saying that time will tell as his vision is to not repeat the same mistakes that the previous PFF administration made.
"I have my own destination with this, and even for critics, I'm hearing positive and constructive criticism, so it is for football in every way," said Hussain. "TSG is working honestly, according to my knowledge, the Prime Minister has added their head Ahmer Kunwar in the Task Force for Sports, so who am I to question. So I am hoping for the best."
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The TSG CEO Ahmer Kunwar was added to the Task Force for sports headed by Ehsan Mani in January.
In a video released to the media from the meeting with PFF head, Anelka is seen promising to help Pakistani youth. "We know that cricket is the number one sport in Pakistan, but the new generation loves football, wants to play football, we are here to support them and give knowledge from Europe. It is not going to be easy, we'd be here to support them,' said the former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Juventus star.
On the other hand TSG's Robert Lewis Head added his investor's perspective to the equation.
"We are here to stay, there is a big future here, having exhibition matches with the international players, shows a lot of credibility and trust, the key concept is working with PFF, to start rebuilding the grass-roots level working with young talent nurtring them training them, giving them facilities and all the stuff they need, so that they can be sitting here with this guy (Anelka), as a world super star player in the years to come and that is going to be the overall ambition, and we are more than happy to show support from UK's side."
However, the key word in the discussion that has been a little troubling is the revival of football.
It is troublesome because football has been a part of Pakistan's history with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to be the founder of the PFF in 1948. Football also has a rich culture within the country and the revival should be taken as a term that is more for the officials and the structural changes for the development of the sport.
Football is also the most inclusive sport, compared to cricket, that is more publicised and televised of course due to more bureaucratic nature of our cultural landscape. Football is in fact played in far-fetched areas including that of Balochistan and up north.
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