KARACHI: Ever since FIFA appointed a Normalisation Committee for the Pakistan Football Federation in September 2019, one man has been consistently mentioned as having had a big say on the decisions taken by the NC.
Mohsen Gilani has been called the orchestrator, the influencer, the ring leader to whose tune the NC has danced. He has maintained a low profile, working behind the scenes in Pakistan football. Until now, of course.
On Friday, Mohsen met Dr. Fehmida Mirza, the federal minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination, who for the last month has been working to resolve Pakistan football’s latest crisis which has resulted in a FIFA suspension.
Mohsen, formerly associated with the FIFA development office, is finally coming to the fore and in his first interview since his time working for the global football body, he gave an overview of his plans to extricate Pakistan football out of its current predicament.
But first, he wanted to dispel some notions.
“The NC was formed by FIFA and to say that someone is an orchestrator is an insult to FIFA,” Mohsen told Dawn, hours after his meeting with the IPC minister. “The members of the NC were all nominated by the stakeholders, the different groups seeking control of the PFF. How could I have had an influence on them as they were nominees of factions?”
Allegations of Mohsen having control over the NC’s decision-making have died down since FIFA revamped it following the resignation of chairman Humza Khan in December last year. In came Haroon Malik but the new chairman barely spent three months in the PFF headquarters before it was taken over by a group of football officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah.
Ashfaq’s group of officials claim that they are the rightful custodians of football in Pakistan, having come to power through an election of the PFF held by the Supreme Court in December 2018, the results of which weren’t accepted by FIFA which in turn appointed a NC to hold fresh elections of the PFF and end the long-running crisis that has afflicted Pakistan football for the better part of the last decade.
Mohsen was part of that election held by the Supreme Court, “because it was held by the highest court in the country”, supporting the officials who won it with Ashfaq only getting elected as president after the nomination papers of the leading candidate of their group Zahir Ali Shah were rejected by the Supreme Court since he did not meet the eligibility criteria described in the PFF Constitution.
Mohsen has for long supported Zahir in his battle for power with Faisal Saleh Hayat, the long-time PFF chief recognised by FIFA until the appointment of the NC.
After the announcement of the NC, Zahir and Ashfaq went their separate ways with the latter blaming Mohsen for the breakup. Mohsen, though, doesn’t want to dwell on that, saying he “has nothing to do with it” and that he “isn’t in agreement over the move by Ashfaq group to take over the PFF headquarters”.
“Their claim that the NC has failed to deliver doesn’t take into account that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted everything,” Mohsen added. “The sporting world was faced with an unprecedented crisis. Tokyo Olympics, Euro 2020 were both pushed back by a year. How could you expect an election to be held during that time?
“The current situation is salvageable. It can be resolved,” he said, echoing the views of the Ashfaq group that the NC should “give an election roadmap as soon as possible”.
Earlier this week, Ashfaq’s group had said it was open to dialogue with the NC and was willing to vacate the PFF headquarters if certain conditions were met including the holding of elections by September this year.
“The government, under the leadership of the IPC Minister and Pakistan Sports Board director general Asif Zaman who are keen to resolve this issue, and the NC should call a meeting of the football stakeholders in the country, take everyone’s view before analysing it and providing a clear direction,” Mohsen reckoned.
As part of his role with FIFA, Mohsen has been involved in many elections in various FIFA member associations. He believes the biggest reason preventing the holding of an election is the persistent confusion over the eligibility criteria. FIFA had previously instructed Hayat to make amendments in the statutes of the PFF Constitution but nothing was done in that regard.
“Eligibility is a big question mark,” Mohsen said. “The period from 2015 to 2019 is a blank. There were two federations functioning. People have lost their memberships. So for the next election, you have to find a way forward. That’s imperative. The NC has Barrister Haris Azmat as a member and as a person with legal background, he needs to formulate the eligibility criteria.”
He also backed the current NC to deliver. “Haroon is a person who wants to make a positive contribution to football in Pakistan so I’m hopeful for the future. The current composition of the NC is a good one.”
But as Mohsen takes a step forward in Pakistan football, coming to the forefront, he is another of many hoping for positive change. For a man who has been involved in several investments in football clubs across Europe, Pakistan football needs a fresh air of professionalism to prosper.
“In this day and age, football requires professionalism. It requires a professional leadership, one which is able to carry out good governance and administrative practices,” he said.
Asked whether he would consider running for a post during the elections of the PFF to bring about that professional change, Mohsen said: “As of now, I haven’t decided. Right now all I can say is that I’ll support my group.”
For a man who holds his cards so close to his chest, who for years has been working behind the scenes, and one who has only come to the fore lately, you can never guess what his next move will be. Maybe he will consider running for a post, maybe he will silently return to the background before popping up again when he feels the time is right.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2021