In an unprecedented turn of events, Pakistan’s football team will have a former English football star at their helm when they participate in the Asian Games next month. Graham Roberts, a former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur defender, has joined the Pakistan Football Federation as a coaching consultant for a two-month stint. In this exclusive interview with Dawn.com, Roberts reveals the details of his ‘signing’, his initial impression of the Pakistan football set-up and his plans for the improvement of the game in a cricket-mad country. Dawn.com: How did the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) get in touch with you and why did you take up this coaching job? Graham Roberts: There is a UK-based sports company called TouchSky Sports, who have been working in an association with the PFF. They put a deal together and asked me if I would be interested in coming to Pakistan to coach and help the national team before they go to China (for the Asian Games).
Dawn.com: Did you ever follow Pakistan football before? Why were you interested in this job? GR: I like challenges in my life and this was a big challenge, especially since it is with the national team. I have been given me the opportunity to come to Pakistan and improve the game here. I have coached and played in England so I look at this job as an opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience to the Pakistani players.
Dawn.com: How much of a difference do you think you will be able to make in two months? GR: Obviously, I will not be able to make a lot of difference overnight but I have met with the players and they are enjoying current coaching regimen. I will be going to the games and will pass on my advice to the players, as well as the coaches.
Dawn.com: Were you concerned about the security situation in the country? GR: Ever since my arrival, I have been around to a few places, like the football stadium, Fifa House and there have been no security issues at all.
Dawn.com: In a previous interview, you said you had two coaching offers from England. Why did you turn them down and chose to come to Pakistan instead? GR: I like new challenges in my life. Sometimes when you coach in England, things get a little stale. I had two interviews over there but I wanted to take this opportunity to come to Pakistan. I have played for England and I have played for big clubs like Tottenham, Chelsea and Rangers, so I think the players in the national team can learn a lot from what I have experienced.
Dawn.com: Pakistan is currently ranked 162nd in the Fifa world rankings. How do you plan on improving that? GR: A change in rankings cannot come overnight. I am currently looking at the Under-23 players and there are some really good, talented boys there. I think the main reason they are ranked at 162 is because they have not played many games. Pakistan’s ranking will go up to about 125 within a year if they play more games because that is where you get the rankings from. We will play in the Asian Games, then there is the President’s Cup and if we do well in these matches, the rankings will improve automatically. Once the ranking improves to 120 or 130, people will take notice and want to play for Pakistan, which will make a big difference.
Dawn.com: After meeting with the players and having a look at the facilities, what kind of potential do you see in the Pakistan football team? GR: The facilities are good and the players are talented but we have to take it to the next level. The bottom line is you can stay where you are and you will be 162 in the world. I have ambitions and because I have taken this job, I am going to do the best I can with it.
The federation has big goals for the improvement football in Pakistan as well. We want to improve the infrastructure and focus on the younger players and turn them into global football players. After all, football is the biggest sport in the world.
Dawn.com: How are you planning on improving the training and preparations of the team for the Asian Games? GR: The training is fine at the moment. What we have to do is get them into a system. When we play the likes of Thailand and Oman we know it is going to be difficult but we go there with determination to win and the belief that we can beat them.
Dawn.com: Speaking of Thailand, you will be facing your former England teammate Bryan Robson who is managing Thailand. What are your sentiments regarding that? GR: I sent him a text the other day saying that I am looking forward to seeing him on the halfway line. It will be good to meet Bryan, he has done a fantastic job at Thailand and he will come there and he will want to win that tournament. It will be a difficult game but if we are well-organized, we can give them a game.
Dawn.com: What major changes do you want to see in the structure of football in Pakistan? GR: There are going to be a couple of professional leagues by next year, which will help the national team. It is all about funds and sponsors – if they can get on board, it will improve the infrastructure greatly. Sponsors need to put money into football like they do in cricket, which will make people come and watch the matches. It will also produce better players; provide better facilities and equipment; which will improve the overall situation for football in Pakistan. In England, the good teams have the best facilities. If you look at the first and second division leagues in England, the facilities are probably not as good as those of Manchester United, Chelsea or Tottenham.