The club scene
by Taha Alizai
While Pakistan’s stature in world football remains unchanged, the landscape of football in Pakistan has changed tremendously over the last 10 or so years.
Fundamental to this has been the setting up of football leagues coupled with the impact of cable/satellite resulting in matches of all top foreign leagues of the world being telecast live.
Following on from the success of the department based K-League (brainchild of the late Hassan Musa of PIA), Karachi United FC launched the Karachi Premier League in 2003 (Karachi League). Thereafter, in 2004, the PFF organised the first ever national league, i.e., the PPFL. While other leagues have been set up from time to time, PPFL and the Karachi League are the only leagues that have managed to maintain continuity.
Whereas the Karachi League was and continues to aim at the promotion of club football in Karachi, the PPFL features the top teams in the country which essentially comprise of departments and the armed forces teams plus a handful of clubs.
Three teams, namely, Wapda (four titles), Army (two) and this season’s top team KRL (who will add a third title to their two previous ones) have been dominant in the nine seasons of the PPFL. On the other hand, the Karachi League has seen as many as seven different winners in its past nine seasons with Shahzad Mohammadan FC being the only club to have won two titles. The complete list of winners of the Karachi League is: Hyderi Baloch (2003), Lyari Labour Welfare Centre (2004-05), Young Ansari (2005-06), Keamari Mohammadan (2006-07), Shahzad Mohammadan (2007-08 and 2008-09), Chanesar Blue (2009-10), Baloch Youth (2010-11) and Burma Mohammadan (2011-12).
Whereas the PPFL follows a promotion/relegation model with teams from the second division, i.e., the PFF League (PFF-B) being promoted (bottom two of the PPFL are replaced by the top two in the PFF-B), given the large number of clubs in Karachi, the Karachi League essentially sees the top eight or so teams maintaining their places, whereas the remaining eight to 12 are nominated by the district associations of Karachi. The Karachi League has seen a constant evolution to manage the demands of the associations as well as sponsors. Hence, initially having been launched as a 10-team single league event, for the last few seasons, it has featured 20 top Karachi clubs divided into two groups of 10 each with the top four in each group advancing to the Super League/Playoff stage. From these eight, the top four qualify for the semis and final and the league has become more akin to the MLS format than the European model.
Where the PPFL has been successful is that it has been able to maintain the same number of teams and the proper double league format. However, criticisms abound as regards the congested nature of the fixtures, with players sometimes being subjected to three games in five days.
The fact that PPFL essentially features department and armed forces teams has also meant that attendances are poor, with the best supported teams being the Balochistan clubs Afghan FC (Chaman), Baloch FC (Noshki) and Muslim FC. In stark contrast, the Karachi League, despite being essentially at the level of a third division, routinely attracts healthy audiences with the highlight being the 2008-09 final between Shahzad Mohammadan and Nazimabad FC where a huge crowd of over 18,000 witnessed proceedings at the KMC Stadium. The playoff matches of that season’s Karachi League were also broadcast (recorded and not live) on TenSports. Last season’s final between eventual champions Burma Mohammadan FC and Karachi United FC saw a healthy crowd of 8,000 at the Baloch Mujahid Stadium.
While the average match bonuses and prize money of the PPFL is higher, the largest amount of prize money in a single event was handed out in the sixth edition of the Karachi League when the champions received Rs1 million and the overall prize money and bonuses were in excess of Rs4 million.
The PFF essentially cover the major operational costs of the PPFL and the teams pay their players as well as cover their travel costs. Since the Karachi League clubs are amateur outfits, the players are not pros and don’t ordinarily get paid. All costs are borne by the hosts Karachi United either themselves or through sponsors.
The writer is the founder of Karachi United Football Club and set up the Karachi League
Difference between local and foreign
by Ali Ahsan
It may come as a surprise to the many growing football followers in Pakistan, and their passion for watching the latest European football action on ESPN-STAR, but Pakistan actually has its own Premier League! It’s just that no one notices it.
The PPFL was formed in 2004 on orders of the newly-elected Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat to restructure the flagging fortunes of the beautiful game in Pakistan. It’s been nearly 10 years since its establishment, and it is safe to say that the fortunes of Pakistan football remain in the doldrums. As someone who has been up close and personal with the intricacies of Pakistani football for almost that same period of time, the difference between leagues in the rest of the world and the PPFL is staggering and it shows why Pakistan football has struggled.
Football leagues around the world, be it professional divisions or semi-pro lower tiers, tend to have a very community-friendly appeal revolving around teams that represents the various cities and towns. The bigger the city, the more teams there will be that appeal to a certain part of the city and its residents. There is no surprise that cities like London, Manchester, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, São Paulo, etc., tend to have more than one team in the top division. Such teams are private entities with a corporate sponsorship appeal that have made them global brands over the last decade. The attention, hype and focus these mega teams get tend to bring in tremendous investment to make world-class facilities, dedicated youth academies, and rope in the best football talent from home and abroad. Football is a multi-billion dollar industry now in the world with the footballers as high performance machines.
Tell that to Pakistan. Keeping in mind the tradition of domestic sports here, the PPFL is a 16-team league dominated by government departments and banks. Wapda, Army, PAF, Navy, HBL, NBP, ZTBL, PIA, and the recently-crowned champions KRL, etc., essentially survive on their department sports budgets and regard their players more as permanent employees than as professional footballers. There are a few token private football clubs like Chaman’s Afghan FC and Muslim FC, PMC Athletico Faisalabad, Baloch FC Noshki and Wohaib FC Lahore who are severely strapped for cash and barely surviving a season.
Given football’s more community-centric history and charm, no one in his right mind would want to go and support a team representing a department that attracts scorn from the general public over their inefficient performances. The departments, as is always the case, have no reason to be visionary or even professional in their treatment of football. They have no reason to give competitive contracts to their players, groom young talent properly in academies, train coaches, etc., and as a result PPFL remains in a hangover due to the unprofessional ad-hoc regard for sport in Pakistan. On top of that, there are political interests to maintain this mediocre status quo in Pakistan football. With each team supposed to play 30 games in not more than four months due to ‘lack of PFF funds’ with little time for recovery, player improvement is often in the negative.
The standard of football is extremely poor: one of the worst in Asia. Cases of poor refereeing, poor facilities, deliberate forfeits, and even match fixing allegations are rife.
PPFL does not have the glitz, glamour and big money of world football, so no one notices it beyond tiny mentions in newspapers and the odd websites here and there. Unless steps are taken to professionally reform it with vision and dedication, players in the PPFL ‘departments’ will not even be good enough for South Asian level, and that says a lot.
The writer is chief editor of FootballPakistan.Com
by Lt Col (Retd) Muhammad Yunus Changezi (Tarzan)
Football which is called the poor man’s game in our country is the highest paid game of the rest of the world, even Bangladesh. Whatever football was played or is even played today is the inborn talent/quality of the individuals here.
The young boys never get coaching in their childhood but of course those youngsters who belong to well-to-do families and study in elite institutions, and who are impressed, interested or motivated through the English Premier League or other matches of the world, do try to get some coaching from some of the old players or watch football coaching videos.
Unfortunately, such videos are out of reach of the majority of the football enthusiasts in the country who hail from poor families. The best example of this is Karachi’s Lyari where almost every house has a football star, who is neglected.
In the past, Karachi has produced world-level players like Captain Omar, Turab Ali, Musa Ghazi, Hussain Killer, Yousuf Senior, Yousuf Junior, Ghafoor Manja, Abdullah Rahi, Abid Ghazi, Ali Nawaz Balauch, Jabbar Qadir and Idrees.
From Quetta, excluding myself, there were Qayyum Ali Changezi, Taj Senior, Taj Junior, Ismail Durrani, Hashim, Sardar Aslam, Ayub Dar, Master Siddiq, Kazim Rajo and Mali. Similarly, Lahore produced Talib Tulli, M.N. Jehan, Masood, Haq, Riasat and Younus Rana Asghar while Peshawar is proud to have produced Jahangir Khan, Kaku, Zamanay and Sumbal Khan.
There has always been a question in the minds of every Pakistani about our failure in improving the game here as it only requires one football and 22 players at the most.
The answer to this is that football requires a base, which is called a ‘ground’, and which we unfortunately don’t have many. The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) itself does not own a ground in the country. So even though the federation is spending a good amount of money on football nowadays it has been unable to come up with any good result or be able to produce any good player whom people recognise.
The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) has been started by the feeration for the improvement of football but instead it has deteriorated due to lack of coverage in print or the electronic media. So no one here really knows much about it. I feel that this is so because the matches are played in such remote areas where at times even teams find it difficult to find the venues.
Another very serious problem for the players is that the matches are played consecutively and finished in three months time only. Every team has to play 30 matches on a home-and-away basis. And no one except the Army, Navy, Air Force, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) has a home ground. And except for KPT where players play openly, because of security reasons nobody is allowed to witness the matches in the other four stadiums. Some of these places even prevent the extra players to witness a match. As for the rest of grounds used by other clubs and departments, they belong to the communities or city government. Many of them are also not maintained very well.
Due to security reasons, now Balochistan is also problematic. Most teams are reluctant to go to Quetta which results in a walkover that negates the real aim of PPFL. It is worth mentioning here that the management knowing the weather conditions also make the schedule in such a way that the teams coming from Balochistan play their matches in September, October and November in Punjab when the weather there is rather hot and the rest of teams have to play their matches in minus 10 degrees at Quetta, Chaman and Noshki. This is very silly.
It is also very discouraging to note that teams going down the ladder mostly compromise with the other teams by hook or crook to remain in the Premier League. As a result the newer teams find themselves relegated.
The departments spend a good amount of money to qualify for the league and once they qualify, they cannot survive due to such compromises between the older teams.
Hence many departments with new teams are reluctant to enter the competition. This is how the basic concept of the league is killed.
The writer, a legendary football player of his time, is a former chairman of the PFF selection committee
View from the VIP enclousure
by Umaid Wasim
Since its inception in 2004, the PPFL has been under intense scrutiny. And as the ninth edition of the country’s top-tier league draws to the close there has been scything criticism that it has done little to improve the standard of the beautiful game in Pakistan.
It stems from coaches, players and the officials.
Mohammad Essa, arguably the best playmaker the country has produced, reckons the league isn’t fair considering the high number of walkovers awarded throughout the season.
“It isn’t fair,” Essa says, referring to the matches in Balochistan where many teams avoid traveling to due to security reasons. “A good league shouldn’t have such easy points on offer for teams of specific regions.”
There has also been serious criticism over the duration of the league which packs 30 matches for each of the 16 participating clubs in just four months.
Tariq Lutfi, the country’s most experienced coach, reckons that it is high time for a change.
“The duration of the league should be extended to seven months,” recommends Lutfi. “That would ensure the players’ fitness levels are up to the mark and ensure that there is even better competition.”
The PFF, though, remains unmoved. According to PFF Secretary Col (retd) Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi, they are utilising the ‘scant’ resources they have in the best possible way. “We’re trying to implement a proper footballing structure in the country,” Lodhi said. “We want to develop the game from the grassroots and try to bring youth into the game.”
Lodhi’s vision has a distinct similarity to that of former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard.
Rijkaard, who now is the head coach of the Saudi Arabian national football team, is trying to establish a set up in the Gulf country that would see it recover its lost glory.
“What we needed was a new philosophy, working with the younger age groups in clubs at the domestic league level to lay the foundations for producing top-quality professional players,” Rijkaard told FIFA.com in a recent interview.
“But we cannot expect to see the benefits tomorrow. It will take another decade before the results come through.”
Saudi Arabia already has a professional league whilst the PPFL is far from being professional. So what does the PFF actually have in mind?
“We are looking at the establishment of a professional league with clubs who have their own youth academy with the help of FIFA and the AFC,” Lodhi says.
“But in Pakistan, there are a lot of problems. Privately-owned clubs cannot give to the players what departments can.
“The departments offer good salaries, benefits and a good post-retirement package. An average player gets Rs25,000 in salary.”
Even if the league features departmental teams along with clubs, club teams can barely compete with the departments which lead to lop-sided matches.
The greatest example is that of Wohaib FC, one of the country’s first privately-owned teams, who were the whipping boys of the ninth edition of the PPFL and were relegated after collecting a meagre eight points.
There have been calls for reducing the number of teams so as to make the league more qualitative but the PFF, at present, has no plans to do so.
“Reducing the number of teams wouldn’t improve the quality of the league in any way,” Lodhi says. “That would only result in lesser number of games so where is the competition? How can you have a few teams playing each other and deciding a top-tier championship?”
And he also refuses to extend the duration of the league. “In the current scenario, it isn’t possible,” he says. “We have a limited budget to work with and so do the departments.
“Once they arrive in a city, they want to get done with their fixtures as soon as possible so as to avoid accommodation fees.
“Similarly, they cannot afford to travel week in-week out if we try to hold games on the weekend.”
Lodhi, however, argued that the PFF has tried to help the teams by asking them to increase the number of players on their roster.
“We tried to increase the number of players each team could have but FIFA refused to allow each team to have that many number of players.” He also shot down allegations that the current PFF set-up is interested in holding the PPFL only to the extent that they ensure grants from FIFA and AFC.
“Pakistan has been receiving grants from 1995 but the league started in 2004,” he says. “The grants will keep coming whether we hold the PPFL or not.”
One thing, though, that would certainly improve the standard of the PPFL would be the inclusion of foreign players.
KESC coach Hasan Baloch has been interested in signing a couple of Brazilians who he hopes would not only help in improving the league but also start a trend that would see other teams go into the market for foreign players.
“It would start a trend,” Hasan Baloch says. “I’m looking at two Brazilian players to bring into the team and that would not only help our team become technically better but also improve the standard of football in the league.”
In order to pay the fee for those players, however, the teams would require support from the PFF just like the ‘designated player’ rule in Major League Soccer (MLS) and the A-League.
However, a cash-strapped PFF refuses to offer any financial support. “We’ve allowed every team to sign up to two foreign players and we are willing to help them in bringing them to the PPFL but there would be no sort of financial support,” Lodhi says.
One thing that could, however, help the PPFL is getting sponsorships and earning money through broadcasting rights. And it would eventually help the clubs in paying the fee for foreign players.
That, in itself, though, is a huge problem. When the PPFL was launched in 2004, it was named the KASB Premier League but after just one season, the bank withdrew its sponsorship as it did not get the monetary benefits it was aiming to get through the country’s first football league.
Similarly, a private sports channel broadcast the league last season but the country’s economic conditions and lack of sparkle in the league meant it, too, did not get the advertisements it was hoping to get in the live broadcast of the league. That has certainly disheartened the PFF. “Now we have PTV Sports, a government channel, but it also refuses to broadcast the league as it would not get them the mileage that cricket offers them,” laments Lodhi.
Although the PPFL has failed to live up to the promise it showed when it was launched nine years ago, there is still hope that times will change.
Next season will see Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA), a hybrid of a department and a club, which is owned by Essa and consisting of up-and-coming young players from Chaman competing in the league.
Such hybrid teams represent the way forward for an ailing PPFL which seems to have lost its way in the last nine years.
The writer is a member of staff