KARACHI: Maybe Zavisa Milosavljevic was taking it as a mere friendly. After all, it turned out to be the Serbian’s last match in-charge of Pakistan’s football team.
Pakistan’s 3-0 defeat to Afghanistan in their international friendly in Kabul on Tuesday — incidentally their only warm-up match before the SAFF Championships later this month — raised serious doubts over the team’s preparations for the region’s marquee event.
Pakistan looked laboured at times during the game, lacking the intensity or the desire that would’ve given any indication that the team was well-prepared for the upcoming assignment.
Fortunately, though, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) moved quickly.
And on Wednesday, Bahraini taskmaster Mohammad Shamlan Mubarak Basheer Al Shamlan arrived in Lahore to take over as Pakistan’s national team coach.
The arrival of Shamlan ends PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat’s long-running pursuit of an accomplished national team coach who can help improve Pakistan football.
“Shamlan arrives here due to our good relations with AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa over a long period of time,” Faisal told Dawn from Lahore on Wednesday.
“For us it is a big coup as he brings a lot of experience and hopefully will help our football progress. We’re very grateful to the AFC chief to help us secure his services.”
Shamlan was the coach of Bahrain’s Olympic team and was named assistant coach of the Bahrain senior team in July. He was in-charge of the senior team affairs until Bahrain appointed Englishman Anthony Hudson as their national team manager earlier this month.
Shamlan is also well-acquainted with Pakistan football having been the assistant of compatriot Salman Sharida when he was the head coach of Pakistan from 2005-2007.
“He brings passion, he brings experience to Pakistan football and the best part is that he won’t take a long time to get acclimatised to the conditions here as he’s already been here previously,” PFF marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider Khan said.
“It is due to the untiring efforts of the PFF president that we’ve managed to rope in a manager of such repute.
“Sheikh Salman is a big supporter of Pakistan football and it is a step by him to help us produce better results in the future.”
Elaborating on Shamlan’s appointment, Faisal said that the tactician joins on two-year contract with the PFF not having to pay a single penny for his services as his fees will be funded by the Bahrain Football Association (BFA).
“This is a great moment for Pakistan football,” Faisal said.
“You don’t get coaches free of cost — especially good ones. Those who arrive for free are either average coaches or come for a very short period of time,” he added referring to Graham Roberts who arrived on a two-month contract as a coaching consultant in 2011.
“We’ve been paying a lot of money to Milosavljevic but it is very helpful that Shamlan’s appointment will help us free a lot of our funds and we can invest that in other areas.
“It is a misplaced notion that we get huge amount of funding from FIFA or the AFC, instead it is very little and most of it is directed towards other areas of football development.
“With Milosavljevic’s departure, we can direct those funds into youth development, women’s football and training of coaches and referees.”
The PFF chief added that Milosavljevic would not be leading Pakistan in the SAFF Championships, which kick off in Kathmandu on Aug 31. Pakistan play India in their Group ‘A’ opener on Sept 1.
“Milosavljevic would not be going with the team to Nepal,” Faisal said. “It will be [assistant coach] Shahzad Anwar who will be in-charge of the team and we might as well sent Shamlan in an advisory capacity.”
The decision was hailed by former Pakistan manager Tariq Lufti.
“It is a good time to give Shahzad an opportunity to prove his credentials and show that he can be helpful in the future,” Lutfi, who has led Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) to back-to-back Pakistan Premier League titles, told Dawn on Wednesday.
“It showed on Tuesday that Milosavljevic had nothing to give to the team. A demoralised coach is of no help to the team.”
The PFF did not reveal what immediate plans they have for Milosavljevic, with the Serbian still having two months left on his contract.
But it is expected that the former Lesotho coach will take a back-seat to Shamlan for the next couple of months.
After Tuesday’s game — a match dubbed as ‘football diplomacy’ between the two neighbours — Milosavljevic told the Guardian: “I’m really satisfied I was part of this lovely event, this lovely crowd. Today’s match was about more than football, it was a demonstration of how two countries can build good relations.”
Maybe he had underestimated the repercussions that failure — or rather his defensive approach — in that match would’ve had.
Nonetheless, after a two-year tenure which had more lows than highs, Milosavljevic would probably be best remembered for being the coach of the Pakistan team that visited Afghanistan for a ‘friendship match’ after a gap of 36 years.
In what was his last act as head coach of the Pakistan team, Milosavljevic led his charges to the presidential palace of Afghan president Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Wednesday, with Karazi saying that Tuesday’s fixture was a symbol of strong cross-border ties.