KARACHI: Mohammad Shamlan Mubarak Basheer Al Shamlan is a man on a mission. Pakistan football team’s new Bahraini coach is hoping he can transform a talented yet underachieving group of players into a winning unit.
“The talent is herein Pakistan … a lot of talent is here,” Al Shamlan told Dawn in an exclusive interview before he was unveiled at a news conference in Lahore on Thursday. “All that we need to do is nurture it properly and channel it in such a way that we start producing good results.”
Elaborating on his plan, Al Shamlan insisted that Pakistan needed to play more and more competitive matches to see where they stand.
“It would be ideal if the Pakistan team can play a few games against Gulf countries so that the players get an understanding of the technical level that they need in order to be competitive,” he underlined. “That will ultimately help us forge a winning mentality and lead us to future glory.”
After arriving in Lahore on Wednesday, Al Shamlan, who replaces Serbian tactician Zavisa Milosavljevic, has been thrust into his new job quite instantaneously. He will be flying with the Pakistan squad to Nepal on Friday for the SAFF Championship.
Although he won’t be taking charge at South Asia’s showpiece football event, Al Shamlan will be assisting Shahzad Anwar — assistant to Milosavljevic — during the tournament.
Not that he is too concerned.
“It is great to be on the job so quickly,” Al Shamlan said. “The SAFF Championships will give me a first-hand opportunity to look at the team and identify their shortcomings. We’ll be training in Nepal till the event begins so it will be good to conduct training sessions with the team just two days into the job.”
The SAFF Championships kick off on Aug 31 with Pakistan facing India in their group ‘A’ opener on Sept 1.
Before taking up the Pakistan job, Al Shamlan was associated with the Bahrain football team.
Having worked as assistant to former Bahrain coach Gabriel Calderon of Argentina since November 2012, Al Shamlan also held temporary charge of the team till Englishman Anthony Hudson was named their new manager earlier this month.
“I’ve had a nice experience working Bahrain’s national team and I’ll be counting on that during my stint with Pakistan,” Al Shamlan said.
The former Bahrain defender added that his appointment as Pakistan coach was due to the long-running friendly ties between the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and the Bahrain Football Association (BFA).
“We have had great relations with Pakistan since a long time and I hope that with my coming to Pakistan, they will only improve,” he remarked. “[PFF president] Faisal Saleh Hayat has given me his support and I am very thankful to him for making me his first choice for this job. Hopefully I’ll be able to repay him with good results as coach.”
Al Shamlan has previously been involved with Pakistan football. He was the assistant coach to Salman Sharida when his compatriot was Pakistan’s head coach from 2005 to 2007.Those two years proved to be a watershed period for Pakistan football with the national team showing they could compete with Asia’s top teams.
“It was a very good time back then,” Al Shamlan remembered. “Pakistan football was improving by leaps and bounds and we had some good results at that time.
“Sharida is like my brother,” he added. “And I’ve come back here with fond memories of that time.”
Since then, however, a lot has changed for Pakistan football and Al Shamlan.
Pakistan have had a managerial merry-go-round since and results haven’t improved with the national team lying 167th in the FIFA rankings.
Their 3-0 defeat to Afghanistan in Kabul on Tuesday — the thrashing which saw Milosavljevic lose his job — won’t help either when the rankings are updated next month.
Al Shamlan, meanwhile, has had a taste of both club and national team management since then.
Involved with the BFA, he was given charge of the Bahrain’s Olympic football team in May 2010.
He led the Olympic team to the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November 2010 but after a dismal campaign in which Bahrain failed to progress out of the first round he resigned. He then took charge of Bahraini Premier League side Al-Hidd and after two successful seasons, left them to guide Al Malkiah to the first division.
With his reputation soaring, Al Shamlan was then offered the chance to coach Manama Club last year. But he left the club mid-season having earned his qualification as a certified coach-instructor with FIFA to join the Bahrain national side before returning to Pakistan — this time as head coach.
Al Shamlan, though, refused to draw parallels with his last stint with the national side.
“Times have changed since I was last here,” he said. “At that time football in Asia was evolving as a whole but now you have countries like Japan who have left everyone behind.
“I can’t try to find similarities between 2006 and 2013 because it is a totally different ball-game now. The recent results haven’t been good but I’m optimistic they can be improved.
“Pakistan already has the facilities required to grow but what I do believe is that with better training and better motivation we can reduce the gap with the rest of Asia. That’s what I’m here to do.”