Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) under its chief Faisal Saleh Hayat has eventually taken a full-fledged start to develop the game which was badly damaged during the past three years because of the conflict between the federation and its rival group. After holding National Challenge Cup, the PFF a few days ago started camp of its national brigade at Lahore’s Model Town Ground to prepare for the Asian Games and SAFF Cup, which will be held in August and September in Indonesia and Bangladesh, respectively.
Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira and his compatriot trainer Jose Portella are busy in the Punjab capital, trying to bring Pakistan’s top lot into a proper shape.
The camp is focussed on physical fitness as during the last three years most players remained inactive. Several senior players told me that Brazilian trainer’s presence in the camp is very crucial. They say he is a true professional and will be able to bring the players into top shape.
The camp has a mix of juniors and seniors, assembled keeping in view the demands of both Asian Games and SAFF Cup. In the Asian Games, an under-23 team, with three senior players, will be fielded. A full senior side will be fielded in SAFF Cup.
Asian Games, which are much tougher for Pakistan, will help the Green-shirts get some practice ahead of SAFF Cup, which is more important for Pakistan.
Pakistan have yet to win any SAFF Cup, a target which should be achieved by a country with a huge football following.
As the hostel of the PFF headquarters in Lahore is being rehabilitated the players are staying at the Sports Board Punjab’s (SBP) hostel which according to the Pakistan team officials has good facilities. Due to Ramadan, training is done at night. In the first phase of the camp which will last till Eid-ul-Fitr, only Pakistan-based players are training.
In the second phase, there will be some foreign-based players, including Denmark-based Pakistan captain Hassan Bashir, goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, Mohammad Ali and former Pakistan captains Zeeshan Rehman and Chaman-born Kaleemullah.
Zeeshan plays for Hong Kong club Southern, while Kaleemullah plays in a Turkish league. Kaleem is currently on leave and is staying at his hometown Chaman. As his Turkish league will begin in the third week of September, he may be available for both the events.
The 34-year-old Birmingham-born former Fulham defender Zeeshan will be available for SAFF Cup. The rest of the foreign-based players will fight for making places in both events.
As there is very little space for seniors in the Asian Games, it will be interesting to see who makes it in Pakistan’s side for the continent’s biggest competitions to be held in the Indonesian cities Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.
As the PFF has disaffiliated itself from Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) all the expenses of the Asian Games will have to be met by the federation itself. The PSB confirmed the other day that it would sponsor only those federations for Asian Games which are affiliated with the Board.
One of the biggest positives of the camp is the induction of former Pakistan captains Mohammad Essa and Jaffar Khan into the support staff of Nogueira.
Essa, having an AFC licence B, is acting as assistant coach, while Jaffar, a licence C coach with enormous international experience as a goalkeeper, has been kept as goalkeeping coach along with experienced Nouman Ibrahim and Zahid Taj, who both have already served Pakistan in the same capacity.
The goalies are lucky as they are learning from an expert like Jaffar, who impressed Nogueira with his keeping in the National Challenge Cup held at Karachi recently.
Essa is a role model for young boys. He is indeed Pakistan football’s Shahid Afridi. Their induction into the support staff is the beginning of a new era. It means that in near future Pakistan will be able to get the services of former captains as national coaches.
The other day Zeeshan expressed his desire to coach Pakistan team sometime in future. He has already got UEFA Pro Licence. It means that he is the second pro licence holder of Pakistan. The other is former Pakistan head coach Shehzad Anwar, who recently completed the AFC Pro Licence course.
Shehzad, also PFF Director Technical, is also part of the camp’s coaching panel. Denmark-based striker Hassan Bashir said in an interview with ‘The News’ the other day that in future he would like to become part of Pakistan’s coaching staff. It’s a good sign for Pakistan’s football that these key players are interested in coaching Pakistan. As a long-term solution the PFF should invest heavily in its own coaches.
The federation is trying to arrange a foreign training tour for the team. As senior officials of PFF are set to attend the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony in Russia this month they intend to negotiate with neighbouring countries about training tour(s) for Pakistan team ahead of the Asian Games. Without giving some exposure it would be useless to directly field the boys in high-level competitions.
Pakistan last played in the international circuit in the first half of 2015 — in the AFC Under-23 Championship Qualifiers in Al-Ain, UAE.
Besides working on men’s football the PFF wants to work for the development of women football. It has written to Japan Football Association (JFA) for a coach for its female players.
Pakistan’s women teams, both under-16 and under-19, will feature this year in their respective age-groups AFC Championship 2019 Qualifiers.
This year Pakistan will also feature in the Under-16 Women SAFF Cup. So it’s a busy year for Pakistan women players.
Besides all these things, holding the domestic premier league is a tough task waiting for PFF. It is highly likely that the PFF will remodel the league. I have covered the previous ten seasons of the Premier League but have not found any improvement.
Pakistan will also have the opportunity of playing against some major sides like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain after the formation of South West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF).