Of Ronaldinho and Friends: The rant of a Pakistani football fan

Former player for FC Barcelona Brazilian Ronaldinho (2-R) vies with Pakistani football players during a friendly match on July 9, 2017 in Lahore. — AFP/File

Brazilian legend Ronaldinho Gaucho’s recent visit to Pakistan along with few other renowned football superstars should undoubtedly be a reason of immense happiness for the well-wishers of the game in the country.

The team sheets boasted the names of the likes of Manchester United stalwart Ryan Giggs, former England goalkeeper David James, Dutch star George Boateng, former France internationals Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka and Portuguese player Luis Boa Morte — all of the aforementioned having a massive fan-following and being a source of inspiration for many.

The two matches played in Karachi and Lahore were definitely worthy of pride and delight for the Pakistani football fans who love and understand ‘the beautiful game’ as much as any football lover in Europe or South America.

However, I feel more worried than happy and satisfied post these events and I have reasons for that.

First and foremost; Pakistan failed to host this bunch of great players the way they deserved to be hosted.

The exhibition matches in both Lahore and Karachi were conducted poorly by the World Group and the Trunkwala family — the organisers of the events and owners of the Leisure Leagues brand.

The events were not managed as they would have been in any other football loving country in the world —  the crowds were uninspiring and the stadia half-filled.

Every tiny detail including out of sync background music, the announcements, the entry of the players, the way half time was announced, was below par.

It was shocking to see children of influential people getting selfies with the star players just before the kick off and during the half-time. Even the Shandoor Polo festival is organised in a more disciplined manner.

The television coverage was below par and sheer shame for the organisers. I believe amateurs professionals would have produced something better than the only two sports channels of the country.

The sports coverage production level in Pakistan is that belonging to the late 20th century while the the world have moved on to 8K production and 4K ultra-high definition is the bare minimum.

This football exhibition event could have been a game-changer for the sport in Pakistan and I believe, had bigger potential than the Pakistan Super League final by a safe estimate.

All this breaks my heart because these legends and the game of football deserved better from us.

What’s killing Pakistan football?

The other thing that breaks my heart is the condition of football in Pakistan as a whole and I would like to remind you with what has almost killed the sport in our country.

Many think that cricket being the dominant and widely celebrated sport in the country has hindered Pakistani prospects in the football world but that’s not true.

Let me walk you through the horror story of Pakistan football.

Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, took over as the head of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in 2003, and is yet to be succeeded.

He’s a politician, a landlord and a Sufi shrine custodian cleric with no interest in sports let alone football, even if he did had a thing for the sport he would not have been able to justice as he already has his hands full with all those full-time jobs mentioned.

Since the time his tenure set in, Pakistan’s football prospects have been given no chance by the analytics of the progress of the sport within the country and on the international scene.

This is because in his 14-year active tenure there hasn’t been one breakthrough policy to develop new infrastructure or publicising PFF’s efforts and familiarizing the public with methods to compete for a spot in the national U14, U16, U19 tournaments. I am not sure if there are any because the PFF website is stuck in 2015.

Despite a lot of football following and indigenous talent, the future of the sport has been growing down consistently.

The sport playing youth who could be playing in U14s, U16s, U19s resort to playing for leisure as there is no gateway to play for a national program, there is no communication or facilitation channels of the PFF.

Also not to anyone’s surprise PFF is one of the most corrupt organizations in the entire world, as per UNESCO corruption rankings according to the Wikipedia page of the PFF.

If that is true, then figuring out the culprit is not a hard one for even a fourth grader.

I am not sure if Mr. Faisal Saleh Hayat did any service to the national football development but he sure did manage to have an added stream of perks and an additional stipend.

In cricket, Pakistan has its own legends still we bring foreign coaches which is alright to me, and to relate to the football story let me quote an analogy from the women’s cricket.

We put very lesser known marginal male cricketers on the job of coaching the women cricket side when we could bring the international greats from women cricket to coach them.

So the women cricket performs just as expected – absolute marginal and not good at all.

And Hockey, umm.. well its doomed and not many in the youth fancy playing hockey even for leisure, the grounds and the equipment are not very commonly seen and the structure is in absolute shambles.

So we have managed to kill a sport that holds the status our national sport to date and hockey once used to be our pride.

Solution? I probably have one…

But the situation with football is different. People have interest in it, young fans buy expensive shirts of their favorite clubs. They set up amateur club sides and compete in local leagues organised by the youth themselves.

Football, as far as I’ve observed is the lowest hanging fruit right now on Pakistan’s sports scene and it has to be nurtured. Now or never.

We need to bring professional management to oversee the development of the sport in the country. We need to bring not one but many international coaches for the teams of different ages.

Pakistan is a resilient nation and has shown this in all aspects of life, be it sports, science or international politics.

This resilience shows much of its colour in cricket as Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup when none thought they could. They won the 2009 World T20 just two months after they were deprived of international cricket at home. They rose to the top of the ICC Test Rankings when their style of play was being heavily criticized.

And just recently Pakistan defied all odds by winning the ICC Champions Trophy coming into the tournament as the lowest ranked side.

This gives us immense hope that a few little right steps with sincerity can save and nurture the sport of football in the country because the talent Pakistan possesses is enough to fire the country towards global glory.