By Abdullah Zafar
Pakistan has been popular for manufacturing half of the world’s footballs with an export of 42 million recorded just ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. But the ordeal faced by the sport along with the worst managerial conditions prevailing in the country is nothing but sheer irony.
An organisation as old as Pakistan itself – the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) received recognition from FIFA a year after its inception in 1947. The Pakistan National Team gained its first international experience in 1950 on a tour to Iran and Iraq. Participating in the Asian Games four years later and then the Tokyo Asian Games in 1958, it was a long, tiring journey that led Pakistan to success in the field of football nearly after half a century – receiving the gold medal in the 1991 South Asian Games (5th SAF Games).
But an unfortunate decline was to follow all the glory.
Stooping down to 4th place in the 2010 SAF Games while positioned at 171 in the FIFA rankings already, football in Pakistan has continued to face an uncertain future.
The country’s highest football division – the Pakistan Premier League, expanding from 14 teams to 16 teams in 2010, too, is non-operational since 2014.
Blaming Pakistan’s absence from international competitions, many football enthusiasts across the country believe the ‘grouping’ among the country’s football federation has added fuel to the lack of organisation of the game. This, in turn, has led to Pakistan’s worst FIFA ranking (201), followed by the suspension of the country from FIFA last month.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
There are some in Pakistan who have not just continued to struggle for a secure future of football in Pakistan, but are now putting in all their efforts for the restoration of the game and to help the phoenix rise from the ashes.
One such person is Lahore’s Tanveer ul Husnain. Having represented Pakistan in numerous international football matches, the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) C-license coach has achieved a gold medal for the country in the 1991 SAF Games.
Pakistan Soccer School’s main focus is the promotion of professional football, the school’s dictum is to ‘innovate, engage, motivate and impact’. Photo: PSS Facebook page
In collaboration with Mohsin ul Husnain, who is an A-license qualified coach of the AFC, the duo started the ‘Pakistan Soccer School’ in Lahore for the revival of the sport that is nearing death with each passing day.
Owing to the lack of international standard football fields in the country, the main campus of the soccer school is located in a ground of Wahdat Road’s Government Science College.
Speaking to Dunya News, Tanveer Husnain said that while the Pakistan Soccer School’s main focus is the promotion of professional football, the school’s dictum is to ‘innovate, engage, motivate and impact’.
“When we say innovate, engage, motivate and impact, we refer to the top-notch training program developed by our management. We believe in promoting the practice of football through elite methodology to raise awareness of the sport as a social advancement mechanism,” explained Husnain.
While the school offers opportunities for anyone within the footballing fraternity’s international network, Husnain says they aim to leave a positive impact on the athletes with the understanding of the values learnt through the sport.
Currently operating as two separate campuses within the provincial capital, he explained that they were a sport investment company capitalising on quality training and social transformation of values through sport.
Players training under the Pakistan Soccer School camp in Lahore. Photo: PSS Facebook page
“It is our belief that football is an incredible apparatus capable of generating constructive social impact in the society,” he said. “We want to cultivate that phenomenal talent and willpower that remains untapped in the youngsters due to scarcity of inspiration, resources and viable pathways to achieve professionalism in this sport.”
For now the institution aims to provide the much needed preparation and opportunity for the talented youth of the country while putting in hard work for the restoration of the sport, Husnain said. And while they are at it, for Husnain and his team mentoring the fresh blood to become ‘the best on regional as well as global platforms’ is their ultimate goal.
Tanveer shared that the Pakistan Soccer School intends to provide young players with international football coaching facilities followed by their provision to the national team. Recently, the school selected 5 players on merit from within Lahore who are being trained at the academy for free.
Shedding light over the structure of the soccer school, Tanveer, the principal said that while it is divided into 5 age group categories: U10, U14, U16, U19 and Seniors, the school also offers referee training courses as well as coaching courses.
“Coaches are essential for teaching and developing players at every level of football. To give their players the best advantage, coaches must be aware of the latest techniques and philosophies involved in coaching.”
At the Pakistan Soccer School, the coaches are also trained to address ‘four corners’ of a player’s development that are technical, physical, social and psychological, all of which he explained were vital in their own right.
“Football fields keeping up with international standards should also be made” said Husnain. Photo: PSS Facebook page
As for redemption of the sport in Pakistan, Husain is of the view that efforts to promote it in schools and colleges should be made at the grass-root level.
“The best nursery for footballers is the school. Futsal like FIFA authorised variants of association football played on hard courts and small fields should be promoted in schools because this attracts people, especially children, boosting their interest in the sport.”
The other most important factor in the promotion of the sport is the provision of quality football fields. “Football fields keeping up with international standards should also be made, and the government should resolve the existing managerial issues to promote football, like cricket,” said Husnain.
While there are numerous football training academies producing quality players, Husnain said their efforts largely go in vain due to the lack of required cooperation by the government.
The institution aims to provide the much needed preparation and opportunity for the talented youth of the country while putting in hard work for the restoration of the sport. Photo: PSS Facebook page
“The government should offer its support to the rising talent in football and also offer monetary incentive so that players do not face financial instability,” he said.
But while these may be just a few factors that Husnain highlighted, there is still hope for the sport in Pakistan. “I assure you that if done right, the sport and its future will be on the right track once again in the country,” a determined Husnain said.