The last four years saw Pakistan hockey going through one debacle after another: 12th (last) position at the 2010 World Cup, 7th at the 2012 Olympics where the Green-shirts suffered the worst ever defeat in their Olympics history — 0-7 to Australia, and failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup — the first time ever. The junior scene was equally pathetic. Despite the much trumpeted 18 academies set up by the Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa-led PHF in late 2008, the under-21 side ended 9th, yet another worst, at the 2013 Junior World Cup.
All this time, a tussle was going on between the officials of the PHF and the “Estranged Olympians” who included some of the most respected names of country’s hockey such as Islahuddin, Shahnaz Sheikh and Samiullah.
Throughout, the estranged group rightly criticised the PHF over its failures. The anger of the estranged reached its zenith when the dubious PHF elections, held a few months back, saw Akhtar Rasool and Rana Mujahidgot elected unopposed as president and secretary, respectively.
Akhtar was the manager-cum-head coach of the national team that had failed at the Olympics and later failed to qualify for the World Cup. Rana held the same position for the junior string for over four years.
Last December, some of the estranged Olympians, including Shahnaz and Samiullah, gathered outside the Parliament House and called for the sacking of the PHF officials and an enquiry against them plus fresh elections.
Along the sidelines of all this, there had been efforts to make the two sides reconcile.
A conciliatory committee was formed this February by the PHF to bring the protesting Olympians on board. It comprised two senior most Olympians, Zafar Ali Khan and Khawaja Zakauddin, plus Iftikhar Syed, an Olympian of 1970s.
Initially, it seemed it would be another futile effort as Samiullah declined to meet the committee declaring, “Nothing short of an interim set up”.
However, a few others, including Shahnaz, expressed willingness to negotiate.
Only a few days later, things changed dramatically when the announcement came that “the estranged” have agreed to cooperate with the PHF. Shahnaz told the media, “We proposed the formation of a committee comprising PHF officials, technocrats of the sport [former players] and experts from corporate sectors. That committee must have the power to take key decisions.”
It took a few weeks — presumably the two parties deliberated over give and take — before the accord was announced. Under the agreement, the president and the secretary of the PHF stay in their positions and the newcomers from within “the estranged” have been given management positions.
Shahnaz has been named the manager-cum-head coach of the national senior team, while Akhtar Rasool’s chum Manzoorul Hasan has been delegated the same role for the junior string. The same Manzoorul Hasan who managed the Pakistan’s under-21 side that failed miserably at the 2013 Junior World Cup and who had admitted, “My only link with hockey over the last decade has been through TV and newspapers.” Islahuddin has been named the chief selector.
As a result of this bargaining, the coaching panels of the senior and junior squads have swollen to unprecedented sizes: four coaches with Shahnaz and five with Manzoor.
Shahnaz claims to have got the coaching staff of his own choice though none of the quartet of Abuzar, Nasir Ali, Shafqat Malik and Sameer Hussain has any great credentials.
The composition of the junior team’s coaching staff presents an interesting as well as a potentially inflammable scenario. While Qamar Ibrahim and Kamran Ashraf are from “the estranged” the other three, Rehan Butt, M Akhlaq and M Irfan, have been among the PHF’s favourites with all getting assignments off and on. Rehan has been more of a spokesman of the federation coming out with vocal and sometimes abusive statements against the estranged.
Likewise, in the selection committee, assisting Islah would be Ayaz Mahmood from his group along with federation’s Arshad Chaudhry (Akhtar Rasool’s brother in law), Khalid Bashir and Mussadiq.
Many questions arise about these people: will the whole coaching staff accompany the teams on tours abroad? Then, as far as the scribe’s knowledge goes, only two among the management sit in the dug-out with the team during international tournaments.
Apparently, the formula of accommodation would go further downwards with both the parties taking turns to share the slots.
The whole muk-muka arrangement seems to be a perfect recipe for confusion and mayhem.
Perhaps the only bright spot, if any, to come out of all this is the statement of the manager-designate Shahnaz. He has said: “Our first target is retaining the gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games.”
One hopes he sticks to his statement and there won’t be any ifs and buts if Pakistan fails to win the title.
The former legendary forward has had stints as the manager of the national team previously. Shahnaz takes great pride in being in charge of the national side when Pakistan last won the Azlan Shah Cup (in 2003) and the last time they reached the final of the Champions Trophy (in 1998, at home).
Now Azlan Shah is an invitational tournament where very few from among the top international sides compete. The Champions Trophy is an annual non-title tournament often used by big powers for experimentation: for instance, in the last edition, Germany sent an experimental team having just three players from the 2012 Olympics squad.
It is the title tournaments that count: World Cup, Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Asia Cup.
Shahnaz managed five such teams and failed on every occasion: the 2006 World Cup (6th position), the Commonwealth Games 1998 (failed to qualify for the semis), the 1998 Asian Games (3rd), the 2006 Asian Games (3rd) and the 1999 Asia Cup (2nd).
In the last instance, Pakistan were leading Korea 4-2 well into the second half but conceded three late goals to lose the final 4-5. That result speaks volumes about the manager’s strategic nous. In the semi -final of the 2006 Asian Games, Pakistan lost to the minnows China for the first time ever. There again, China equalised in the last minute and then scored the golden goal.
Tail Piece: With the present pool of players not even world’s most successful hockey coaches, such as Australia’s Charlesworth or Germany’s Wiese, can change the fortunes of our national team. What is required the most is reinvigorating the structure of domestic hockey from bottom to top — this is a task beyond the capability of the present set up.