Sunday, November 14, 2010

Football: Focus on grass-root after Asian Games failure

Pakistan continued their poor show on the international circuit and returned home from the Asian Games within a week.
Pakistan continued their poor show on the international circuit and returned home from the Asian Games within a week. The trip, financed by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) following the Pakistan Olympic Association’s (POA) refusal to fund the squad, resulted in two losses out of three matches, eight goals conceded, none scored and a bottom-place finish in the Group.
The outcome was expected, the reason why the POA declined to include football in their official contingent for the Games. The PFF generated its own funds in order to provide international experience to the under-23 squad. However, what they forget was that if the national outfit is fragile, it is futile to expose it globally. The poor show resulted in increased humiliation and dejection rather than the infusion of experience and exposure.
The PFF should realise that it cannot build a strong team without building a strong infrastructure first, one that includes stadiums, academies, green outfields, decent training facilities, qualified coaches, and suitable income opportunities for the players during and after their careers.
There is no long-term planning in Pakistan football. Coach Akhtar Mohiuddin is of the view that there are no shortcuts in football and the country needs consistency, must give due priority to the U-14 and U-16 levels and only then would the federation have a big enough pool of quality players in the next six years.
While his opinion is correct, one must ask about his involvement with the national squad. If he believes in the promotion of the game at grass-root level, what is he doing with the senior squad instead of concentrating on the juniors.
Unfortunately, youth development is nobody’s priority despite the grants received by the PFF each year by FIFA and the AFC. The Asian Games squad was formed from the youth development sector. We witnessed the huge gap between Pakistan and the rest of the teams in terms of skills and talent.
Good news following the debacle is that the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), under the Australian Sports Outreach Program (ASOP), has donated the Rs1.5 million to the PFF for the PFF Youth Football Development Project in Gilgit and Lyari. However, the grant is specific to the social development rather than the game’s development in the country.
What we need urgently is the regulation of a comprehensive youth development programme that focuses on the future of football. Last decade, England’s John Layton and Jozef Herel of Slovakia trained and supervised the football youth sector here in Pakistan for about five years and as a result, the team qualified for the U-17 and U-19 Asian Championships for the first time. Later, it was also because of Layton that the senior team earned a point in the World Cup qualifying round by scoring its first-ever goal and a hat-trick by midfielder Gohar Zaman.
That, however, was the past. With results such as the ones witnessed in the last few days, the PFF needs to go back to the basics, devise a new plan and ensure the sport gets the attention and recognition it deserves.
M Wasim is a freelance sports writer
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2010.

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