Pakistani Football: Where are you?

Published: August 23, 2012
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What really is the difference between the amateur and professional teams, because quite clearly it isn’t the fact that the latter are better. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pakistan has been blessed with prodigious sporting talent, with success ranging from the cricket field to the squash court. Despite this fact, one area has puzzled Pakistanis for generations – football.

For a country that’s been involved in the sport since its inception, it’s extremely surprising that not even a single world-class individual has been churned out. Even as a team, Pakistan has performed deplorably on the international stage; with an international ranking of 176, it is virtually a non-entity in the sport. A combination of poor management, lacklustre infrastructure, uninspired coaching and minimal support has all led to the current abysmal position Pakistani football lies in.

The Pakistani government hasn’t taken any decisive steps to improve the state of football in the country. When juxtaposed with the budget set aside for the PCB (Rs700m), the annual amount the PFF (Pakistan Football Federation) is allowed to spend hovers around the 5-10m mark. The massive difference in the budgets just highlights the fact that the authorities aren’t prepared to invigorate the sport.

The trivial finances also make it near impossible to set up a standardised league system – which is incredibly germane to the footballing development of the host country. Every successful footballing nation has a smooth, robust league system which provides immense opportunities for players to display the talent they hold.

Currently, the Pakistan Premier League is the poster-child of the Pakistani league football, but its quality is way below par. Teams are departmentalised (Railways, Army, Wapda) so, there aren’t a lot of independent teams. Plus, the set-up is very inefficient and fixture lists are congested, as teams can be forced to play four matches over the span of six days. Also, there isn’t much funding leading to underdeveloped clubs and most teams are filled with overage and under fit players. Some teams even fail to show up at games.

The competitiveness of league football only allows clubs, and hence players, to get better and they’ll have incentives to search for newer players in their locales and consequently hone them into proper footballers. Overall, when the league and national set-ups work in harmony, it provides for a solid foundation. The lack of coverage afforded by the media is also to blame.

European football, in all of its glory, can be symbolised by its vibrant green pitches, wonderfully architectured stadia, diverse training facilities and a deep sense of professionalism – all hallmarks of footballing excellence.

A trip to Punjab Stadium in Lahore just showcases the apparent gap between Europe and Pakistan. Model Town (Lahore) is packed with football clubs and academies, but there again the grounds and pitches are terrible. These academies are also not very well stocked in terms of equipment, such as training cones and goal-posts. But then again, this situation mirrors the problem of a lack of investment into the sport.

FIFA recently brought along its Goal Project to Pakistan, which would create five footballing compounds all over Pakistan, with two of them being in Karachi. One must question the effectiveness of such projects. Are five facilities in a country as large as Pakistan good enough, when England and Spain have thousands being smaller geographically and demographically? Admittedly, it’s a step, a step that might inspire identical projects to be built in the future. However, in the status quo such projects aren’t going to help much.

The national team has had eight coaches in the last five years. It’s painfully obvious that a visionary with a long-term plan needs to be brought in, as the work that needs to be tempered on the team has to be gradual and slow. A ‘Superman’ can’t be ushered in, and expected to make Pakistan qualify for the World Cup immediately. Public reaction and expectations also escalate whenever a foreign name is hired, and the pressure, the team already is under, increases. People need to be realistic and realise that some serious changes and improvements need to be made before we can, even faintly, label ourselves as contenders for a World Cup spot.

Recently, hope has started to spurt, mainly in urban areas. Players have tasked the responsibility of arranging tournaments, training and managing on themselves. Cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad see exponential growth in the number of amateur tournaments during the summer months, and the numbers of teams also see familiar growth.

Just over two weeks ago, an ‘amateur’ team “FC Kaos” defeated the Lahore U-19 team 2-1. The result brings into question as to what really is the difference between the amateur and professional teams, because quite clearly it isn’t the fact that the latter are better. The closest thing you could say in this context is that these professional teams are officially backed by the PFF and its subsidiary authorities, whereas anything else is regarded as amateur.

Perhaps extending official support in the shape of institutionalising a junior league might aid in solving this enigma. Additionally, dissemination of information isn’t efficient – players aren’t notified of when or how trials for the national teams take place. If you don’t possess a link to the PFF (Uncle, uncle’s friend and uncle’s friend’s friend) then it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever be familiarised with the selection process.

Surely, there’s a better way to go through all of this than placing obscure adverts in newspapers.

Maybe this is another opportunity for social media to spread its wings?

Football is a genuinely global sport and competing at its utter top level will only enable our country to prosper and make its citizens proud. But it will take time. Even if work is started today, it will be many years before we can be a tour de force, even in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation).

No need to worry though, as the dreadfully worn out cliché goes

‘Rome wasn’t built in one day.’

Read more by Samee here, or follow him on Twitter @Samee_24

Samee Zahid

Samee Zahid

A first year A Level student hopelessly in love with the world of football who aspires to one day be successful in the field of finance and banking. Has a strong penchant for philosophy and logical constructs and tweets @Samee_24

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mahboob

    Good article.. but it lacks one thing: suggestion for solution…
    one solution that comes to my mind is that they should hire players from cold areas of the country like Northern Areas and Quetta etc, because they are good at this sport.. Recommend

  • http://www.footballpakistan.com Shahrukh Sohail

    Welcome to the world of Pakistani Football. The main reason for our decline is the PFF itself. The Federation has failed in the majority of it’s tasks, take for example that Pakistan is not playing in any Friendly games in August and September, as the PFF wasn’t able to find opponents due to their incompetence.

    Investors will only invest if the environment and promise of returns is worth it. And also if anyone wants to check out the latest happenings in the world of Pakistani Football, visit Footballpakistan.comRecommend

  • Darth Vader

    European football, in all of its glory, can be symbolised by its vibrant green pitches, wonderfully architectured stadia, diverse training facilities and a deep sense of professionalism – all hallmarks of footballing excellence.

    Wonderfully put. This sentence alone just magnifies the trench between Pakistan and footballing success. WE NEED INVESTMENT.Recommend

  • asif

    I agree with you, we completly lack a proper club structure to nurture players young and old.Nicely done mate, you did justice to Pakistani problems in Football.Recommend

  • daddy cool

    Thank you for stating the obvious. If you have ever bothered to sojourn into the PFF Football House in Lahore, you will see exactly why football isn’t doing so well in Pakistan. There is incompetence, nepotism and corruption throughout. The good, honest workers are quickly marginalized. The mechanism for ‘voting’ in a president is also highly politicized.

    That being said, sorry to bring this to your attention: Pakistanis aren’t exactly the greatest athletes. We can’t even produce a half decent sprinter or long distance runner. Without the raw attributes necessary to succeed at the highest level, it is a real long shot to produce top talent. It’s not for a lack of interest from our youth. Stick PFF in my hands with the same budgets as today and I can assure you the football landscape of Pakistan would change. I’m sure there are other passionate Pakistanis with knowledge of footballing intricacies. Recommend

  • Wisdom

    @daddy cool

    ‘That being said, sorry to bring this to your attention: Pakistanis aren’t exactly the greatest athletes. We can’t even produce a half decent sprinter or long distance runner. Without the raw attributes necessary to succeed at the highest level, it is a real long shot to produce top talent ‘

    That is probably the most erroneous thing I’ve heard today (Actually in a long, long time). I sincerely hope this was a troll, otherwise I severely doubt your ability to spew out a well-thought out response.Recommend

  • jekyll

    @daddycool i dont think anyone would want you in charge of the PFF after that comment……….Recommend

  • jekyll

    @daddycool i dont think anyone would want you in charge of the PFF after that comment…….one who thinks the country lacks raw talent & cant produce top talent & then contradicts himself by saying if he were in charge he would change the ‘landscape’ of football in Pak. Well done.Recommend

  • Jaffaar

    The author here gave off 2 VERY viable solutions, those being:

    1) Institutionalizing a junior league.
    2) More transparency regarding national trials.

    However the question again fixates on the issue of money. If the govt. isn’t willing to spend, then we need to search for private funding. The GEO Super League was one instance of such private funding. Nobody had ever heard of Pakistani club football before that, but it aided in familiarizing an average Pakistani with the club set up. I, for one, am extremely disheartened by the league’s discontinuation. Oh well, back to the wilderness.Recommend

  • Haider

    @Samee Zahid: As i see it, there is nothing wrong with departmentalization, provided that professionalism is there. For instance, PFC CSKA Moskva is a prominant Russian club who regularly quilfies for UEFA champions league. Major shareholder of CSKA is Russian Army, which has controling rights over the matters of the club (if I’m not wrong).Recommend

  • Kehkishan

    Do you even know that PFF has a women wing too? Women National Championships are held each year? I guess not. That how well the Federation is doing in promoting football in Pakistan. Recommend

  • SAAD

    You needed some research before writing this piece, PCB is an independent organisation. It does not receive any budget or grant from the Government of Pakistan. It generates its own revenue and then contributes in taxes to the national treasury. PFF is always run by politicians who don’t even know how to spell football. The only reason for Pakistan not being a football force is the lack of interest among general public. Football is not liked by most Pakistanis, following football and playing are two very different things. How would you explain the performance of African nations in football? they too have low budget and no proper domestic structure but the public loves and worships football like we do. Simple as that.Recommend

  • anticorruption

    Here is a good discussion on our domestic cricket structure, which I think also has a lot of relevance for football, hockey and other team sports:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXpSPU7EYg0Recommend

  • Saim Ali

    I agree that there is a lack of interest among the public for football, but then we need to promote it we are not promoting football, we are always promoting cricket but forget the opportunities lied under football.Recommend

  • Barakat Arellano

    @daddy cool:
    I am a peruvian/canadian born in Qalandarabad, Pakistan. I previously played collegiate soccer in the US and for “Sport Boys” del callao in Peru in 2011. I am willing to play a season in Pakistan regardless of the money in order to represent Pakistan at the National level. I am no superman but i am very skilled technically and quite fast attacking mid/forward. The only contact info i found at (pff.com.pk) was that of “[email protected]” and am still waiting on a response. I hope someone on this blog may be able to share some info with me as to who else i may be able to contact and send pictures and videos to. Feel free to email me any info related to Pakistani FootballRecommend