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The notion that Pakistan is a cricket crazy country is as dated as a typewriter. Just like computers and laptops have replaced typewriters in offices and homes, football has replaced cricket on many streets of the country, especially the cities. Boys of all ages can now be seen wearing shirts and shorts of their favourite international football clubs and players, and busy kicking a ball in the streets where once cricket reigned supreme.

Football is the new passion for Pakistani kids these days. Ronaldo, Messi and Co. are the heroes they follow and FC Barcelona and Manchester United are the clubs they back. It is no wonder that many local clubs have cropped up to cater to the budding talented and eager youngsters who have taken football out of Lyari to other parts of the Karachi and other cities.

Maybe the decline of international cricket in Pakistan and the uncertain performance of the Pakistan cricket team in recent years had a part to play in this shift of sporting interest. Whatever the reason, it is a good sign that even without official patronage, football players and fans have taken ownership of game and are going all out to promote it.

Football got a major boost last weekend when international stars descended upon Pakistan in the shape of Rohaldinho, Gibbs and five other footballers. They were here to play two seven-a-side matches, alongside local footballers. The event, organised by Leisure Leagues and dubbed ‘Ronaldinho and Friends’, sent sport fans into a frenzy and rightly so.

Though these players are past their glory days, they are still legends with magical feet. Ronaldinho is a Brazilian legend, Ryan Giggs represented Manchester United. The rest of the Ronaldinho and Friends line-up comprised former French players Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka, Portugal’s Luis Boa Morte, English goal-keeper David James and Dutch star George Boateng.

The first match was played in Karachi on July 8, at Abdus Sattar Edhi Hockey Stadium, between teams led by Ronaldinho and Giggs, comprising both international and budding local players.

The second match took place the next evening at Fortress Stadium, Lahore. Both the events were packed to capacity despite the exuberant ticket rates. Ronaldinho-7 won both the matches against Team Giggs to secure the series. At Karachi, Ronaldinho-7 won against the Giggs-7 with the final score of 2-1. At Lahore, Ronaldinho-7 sealed the series with a 2-0 victory.

Team Ronaldinho comprised Yousuf Butt, Saddam Hussain, Kaleemullah, Saadullah, Hassan Bashir, Riaz, Kamran, along with Ronaldinho, Boa Morte and Robert Pires.

Team Giggs had Mohammad Rasool, Mohammad Essa, Aziz, Razik, Mohammad Adil, Adnan, Mohammad Ali and Ahmed, along with Giggs, Nicolas Anelka, George Boateng and David James.

Meet Ronaldinho and friends

Most football fans must be knowing the visiting stars in the Ronaldinho and Friends squad. For those who have no clue as to who these international footballers are, here is a little bit about them to make you grasp the magic of these players who, though past their prime now, were once feared by opponents and cheered by fans.


The Brazilian star is known as legend not because he has won many trophies, but because he introduced magic to football and once he started dibbling, no one could stop him. Defenders feared to play against him.

Ronaldinho played mainly as an attacking midfielder, but was also deployed as a forward or winger. He played for European clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, the Spanish giant Barcelona and the Italian club Milan, as well as the Brazilian national team.

In his second and the best season with Barcelona, he won his first FIFA World Player of the Year Award. The following season, 2005–06, he was instrumental in Barcelona winning the UEFA Champions League, their first in 14 years, as well as another La Liga title, giving Ronaldinho his first career double. That year Ronaldinho also received his second FIFA World Player of the Year award, as well as the Ballon d'Or, something many players just dream of winning. He represented his country in two FIFA World Cups, and was an integral part of the 2002 FIFA World Cup-winning team in Korea and Japan.

For his club, he scored 280 goals in 728 appearances and for his national side, he scored 33 goals in 97 appearances.

David James

David Benjamin James is a British keeper who has played 53 times for the English team. James is the only black goalkeeper to represent England as a full international.

James is fourth on the list of all-time Premier League appearances, having played in 572 top-level matches, and held the Premier League record for most clean sheets with 170 until Petrech surpassed this record.

In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, James became the oldest ever World Cup debutant at 39 years and 321 days old.

Nicolas Anelka

Nicolas Anelka is a French football manager and former player known for his ability to both score and assist goals.

Anelka played 69 times at the international level and won his first international honours with France at UEFA Euro 2000, and his team won the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup the following year.

At the club level, he has played for a lot of clubs but never settled for long at any of them. Had he stayed with one club for long, he would have probably had better statistics to boost.

He converted to Islam in 2004 and took up the name ‘Abdul-Salam Bilal’.

Robert Emanuel Pires

Robert Pires is a former French player who mostly played as a winger, but was also considered as a attacking/mid fielder. Pirès earned 79 caps between 1996 and 2004 for his country, and was part of the winning squad of the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000. For France, he made 79 appearances and scored 14 goals.

He had his best club time with Arsenal that included three FA Cup and two Premier Leagues titles. He has been included in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2001–02, 2002–03 and 2003–04 seasons, was the Player of the Tournament for the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup, FWA Player of the Year for the 2001–02 season. He had 537 appearances at club level and he scored 127 goals.

Ryan Giggs

If you are a Manchester United fan then you must have surely loved Giggs’ presence in Pakistan. It was announced very late that he would join Ronaldinho and company when he replaced English player John Terry.

Ryan Giggs, also known as “The boy genius”, has some magical stats in his career and played for Manchester United his entire club career. He captained Manchester United and, judging his leadership skills, Leisure League announced him as the captain of Giggs 7.

With Manchester United, he saw the club win the UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and English Premier League. Though he wasn’t able to win any major trophy with his national team Wales, his dedication and determination towards his team earned him the status of the greatest player from Wales. He is also among the players who made 100 appearances in Champions League, which is not an easy task. In the 2011–12 season, Giggs became the oldest goal scorer in Champions League history when he scored United’s equalising goal in a 1-1 draw at the Estadio da Luz. He was the first player ever to score in 16 different Champions League campaigns.

Giggs was never sent off in his 24-season playing career for Manchester United and was only once sent off when playing for Wales, on September 5, 2001, in a World Cup qualifier against Norway. In club career, he had unreal 963 appearances and he scored 168 goals.

After his retirement, he stayed on with Manchester United as manager and managed Manchester United in four games.

Luis Boa Morte Pereira

Luis Boa Morte Pereira is a Portuguese professional footballer and currently the manager of Sintrense. He played as a winger, forward and central mid-fielder.

He had his best club time in Fulham where he scored 27 goals and in 2004-5 season, he was named Fulham’s Player of the Year!

A full international from 2001 to 2009, Boa Morte earned 28 caps for Portugal and was selected for the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

George Boateng

The Ghana born Dutch mid-fielder has a decent style of playing on the pitch. He started for Middlesbrough in the 2006 UEFA Cup Final. He is a generous sportsman on and off the pitch.

He played 504 games at the club level and netted the ball 25 times while internationally he played 22 games but couldn’t score.

Published in Dawn, Young World July 15th, 2017