KARACHI: When Mohammad Hussain’s dream of becoming a professional footballer came to an end, not even in his wildest imagination had he thought he would get a chance to play at Anfield. In less than 10 days’ time he would be leading out a team from Pakistan, hoping to lift a trophy, at the iconic venue which is home to Liverpool, one of England’s most aristocratic clubs. By then, Anfield could’ve hosted a big party. A title party. A party that not only Anfield but the city of Liverpool hasn’t seen in almost three decades.
Two games remain in an intensely gripping Premier League title race with Liverpool hoping to end a 29-year wait to be crowned champions of England. During that time they have been crowned European champions, once in 2005, but the domestic league title has eluded them. They might be crowned European champions again this season, for a sixth time in their history — if they somehow manage to overturn a 3-0 first leg semi-final deficit against Barcelona — but it’s their quest for a 19th league title that has been the focal point of their season, paving the way for a thrilling two-horse battle with Manchester City in which no team is giving up.
“There is still some way to go but we’re in a good position,” Liverpool’s legendary striker Ian Rush told Dawn during his visit to the country last week. “[Manchester] City of course are a very good side and we’ve also got a [Champions League] semi-final against Barcelona but we’ve got a fantastic manager in Juergen Klopp and his presence and his positive attitude will hopefully help us. It’s been 29 years since we won the league and I actually played in it so it will be a great success if Liverpool win this year.”
There is genuine excitement around those associated with Liverpool these days. Klopp has played a massive role in revolutionising the club since he took over in 2015. Liverpool did come close to ending their agonising wait for a league title in 2014 but that challenge was largely unexpected. Klopp’s side though has inspired genuine belief they can go all the way even if their title challenge could come unstuck by early next week.
Lose at Newcastle United on Saturday and City, who lead the Premier League standings by one point, will defend their crown with victory against Leicester City on Monday. Win, and Liverpool will head into their final game of the season against Wolverhampton Wanderers on April 12 knowing that anything could happen in a battle of nerves with City playing Brighton & Hove Albion at the same time.
At least Liverpool can dream of a title party at Anfield, unlike the years past when they were mired in mediocrity. Just like Hussain couldn’t dream of playing at Anfield when he abandoned his pursuit of becoming a professional footballer. How things change. Hussain could very well be playing at Anfield a day after watching Liverpool win the Premier League. That, after a practice session at the club’s Melwood training ground which will also feature interaction with Liverpool legends.
“Playing at Anfield would be a dream come true after what could be a historic moment for the club,” Hussain, who will lead DHL at the Standard Chartered Trophy after winning the Road to Anfield Pakistan qualification tournament last month, told Dawn.
Hussain once played for the amateur team of Karachi United, one of Pakistan’s most famous clubs whose amateur team, four years ago, became the first from Pakistan to take part in the five-a-side tournament at Anfield organised by Liverpool’s title sponsors Standard Chartered Bank. Hussain’s team will be the second but is looking to become the first from Pakistan to win a tournament at Anfield in which teams from Bangladesh, India, Kenya, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Korea will take part.
Even though he is firmly in the corporate world now after leaving football in a “practical decision”, Hussain is hoping to savour one famous footballing triumph. “We’ve been training hard and we want to win it for Pakistan.”
Anfield will hardly be as raucous as it will be in Liverpool’s game against Wolves, or in next week’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Barca where the home fans will back their team for a miraculous comeback, when Hussain leads out his team. Victory for his team, however, could have a different resonance back in his own country, potentially pushing more corporates to start football and eventually put money into Pakistan football which for years has been crying out for financial support and sponsors. That, and near-constant issues in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) have seen the national team fall to 200th in the FIFA rankings, becoming the second-worst in Asia.
“Corporate engagement is always good when it comes to sport,” Taha Alizai, one of the founding members of Karachi United, told Dawn regarding the qualification tournament for the Road to Anfield event that featured 23 corporate teams from Pakistan.
“This event is a part of a structured programme that gets eyeballs but this is just one of the little things that can help Pakistan football as it brings together corporates on the field of play. Multinational companies can do only so much but local corporates need to get involved if the sport has to be taken forward in the country.”
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2019