KARACHI: One of the greatest players to grace the hockey field, former Pakistan captain Shahbaz Ahmed senior was a textbook player. His technique was orthodox and his accuracy earned him the tag of being “hockey’s Maradona”.
His achievements for Pakistan made him the only hockey player to be awarded with the Hilal-i-Pakistan and the Olympian, now working as a district manager for the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which was his first team when he made his debut in 1986, has no regrets.
His life has not changed since his international retirement in 2002. Ahmed was the schemer when he played for Pakistan and is the strategist behind generating a Rs9million in revenue for his employers as well. He does not miss the glory days when Pakistan’s hockey was at its best. According to Ahmed, after playing so much and tasting almost every success there was, he got “sick” of it. For him, the 2010 football World Cup was the biggest event.
Ahmed might not have had too many goals next to his name, but his presence was enough. “I didn’t score too many but I had the speed.” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
“I easily anticipated the results of my passes and crosses. I never scored many goals in World Cups either but I think it was my technique and strategy that won us matches.”
He tasted success early on in his career. In 1986 he was the player of the tournament when Pakistan defeated hosts India in the Gandhi Cup with the Indians calling him “hockey’s F-16” and a “superman”.
One of the comments Ahmed treasures is by former Indian captain Dhanraj Pillay, who claimed that if Ahmed and he were in the same side they could have defeated the world.
One of his greatest moments was the 1990 World Cup in Lahore and though Pakistan lost the final to Netherlands 3-1, Ahmed said the level of fitness he had achieved complemented his performance on the field.
“I don’t think I was the same before or after the 1990 World Cup. It was my peak.”
But a triumphant moment came four years later, when Pakistan avenged their defeat and beat Netherlands on penalty strokes in the final to be crowned World Champions.
“It was the greatest rush of emotion and pride. I have always kept my feelings to myself. It is bigger than Hilal-i-Pakistan or anything else.
There were people cheering for Pakistan and I was the captain.”
Ahmed announced his retirement in 1992 and 1994 before he finally walked away from the game for good in 2002.
“In 1994, I wanted to quit hockey on a high note but the PHF officials convinced me to stay.
Somehow in 1998 the PHF asked me to coach the team for six months, I was very reluctant because I couldn’t coach.”
Ahmed considered a coaching role for the youngsters a few months ago.
However, negotiations with the PHF faltered and Pakistan hockey, in doldrums of late, missed out on a great head that may have revived the game in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2010.