KARACHI: For all talk of deals with English Premier League clubs, Thursday’s announcement felt like a downgrade.

Global Soccer Ventures — hoping to set up a franchise league in Pakistan — said it was only being realistic as it announced a three-year deal with Irish premier-division side St Patrick’s Athletic which will see the best players from a government-backed talent hunt programme train at the club.

“We’re only being realistic,” GSV CEO Zabe Khan said at a virtual news conference. “For our players, and considering the state of football in Pakistan at this moment, breaking into the academy at a Premier League club wouldn’t have been possible.”

He added: “English Premier League clubs are still on board.”

Thursday’s news conference came two days after GSV had inked a US$12million stadium deal with Karachi’s NED University of Engineering & Technology, which will see the company transform the institution’s football ground into a ‘Soccer City Stadium’.

That is expected to be the venue for matches of the franchise-based Pakistan Football League, which the GSV is looking to launch.

No start date for the PFL has been announced with plans seemingly taking a hit with the ouster of the court-elected Pakistan Football Federation of Ashfaq Hussain Shah from the headquarters of the country’s football governing body in Lahore.

Last year, GSV — with former England striker Michael Owen as its brand ambassador — had signed a 10-year deal with Ashfaq’s PFF, which is not recognised by FIFA, to organise the PFL.

Ashfaq and his officials had then just taken over control of the PFF headquarters from the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee, which saw the global football body suspend Pakistan.

The FIFA ban is due to be lifted with the NC likely to be handed over the PFF headquarters after the government intervened to resolve the crisis.

And while GSV has no deal in place with the NC, whose term is to last only until fresh elections of the PFF are held, it crucially has the support of the government to go ahead with its plans.

Having partnered with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Kamyab Jawan Sports Drive programme, its latest deal with St Patrick’s will see the Irish club’s coaching staff begin the Football Talent Hunt Programme — under the Kamyab Jawan banner — in Pakistan.

The talent hunt will be held across 10 cities with the top 20 players at the end of the trials travelling to Dublin to train with St Patrick’s academy.

The GSV said that it will offer Pakistan’s football talent a pathway to get into Europe.

It will also help GSV set up a talent pool for the PFL as it will need players in the ‘emerging’ category for the franchises to pick for whenever the league is launched.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2022

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