KARACHI: Winds of change are blowing in Pakistan football. Positive change, that is. For now, it will be the national team which will hopefully benefit.

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee on Thursday announced Ayaz Butt as the national team manager and Gohar Zaman as the assistant coach for the national team’s tour of Malaysia next month.

They were named alongside head coach Tariq Lutfi, who was handed the national team’s reins following the appointment of the Normalisation Committee in September this year. Lutfi’s first assignment was to take Pakistan to the South Asian Games earlier this month but the team wasn’t able to attend the regional event in Nepal due to issues over its accreditation.

But it’s the return of Gohar to the national team set up and the appointment of Ayaz — the sports chief of the highly-successful Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) side at domestic level — which stands out.

“Football people are being utilised in the best possible way,” Lutfi told Dawn. “Gohar and Ayaz are highly deserving of this chance.”

Gohar was sacked as the Pakistan assistant coach in 2012 with the PFF, then led by Faisal Saleh Hayat, claiming he was irresponsible. It was later revealed that the sacking came since the former Pakistan captain refused to give PFF the salary he received from the Asian Football Confederation’s Aid-27 programme. The PFF, for years, kept taking back salaries coaches received from the Asian football body as “donations” to help Pakistan football.

But with Hayat’s ouster, following the appointment of the Normalisation Committee, he returns to the national team set up looking to make up for lost time.

“I’ve always said that I want to contribute to Pakistan football,” Gohar, who is regarded as one of the best football minds in the country, told Dawn. “Hopefully the tour of Malaysia will be the start of better things for the national team.”

Pakistan football — most importantly, the national team — has suffered due to crisis in the PFF for the last several years. The national team faces four years without competitive action after it lost in the first round of 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifier to Cambodia in June.

As it rebuilds, it probably couldn’t have chosen a better man as team manager than Ayaz, who was never given a chance by the Hayat regime.

A strict disciplinarian, Ayaz has taken the KRL team to great heights — making it the country’s most dominant side in the last decade. They have won four of the six Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) seasons in the last 10 years while also making history by becoming the first team from the country to play a final of an Asian club competition, ending as runners-up of the AFC President’s Cup in 2013.

Lutfi was coach of that side and Ayaz is hoping that they could join forces once again to give the Pakistan team that winning mentality that KRL had.

“We both have shared great moments with KRL in the past and now we’ll hopefully bring the same joy to Pakistan,” Ayaz told Dawn.

Pakistan’s training camp for the tour will be held at the KRL Football Ground in Rawalpindi from January 2 to 16 with the team departing for their week-long tour on January 17.

The team will be staying at the AFC headquarters and while Malaysia’s football team will not be available to play against them, Pakistan will square off against some club teams during the tour.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2019

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