A chance to shine in football

Pakistan has huge potential as a country for football. But a ban imposed by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) over the past five years, and the political rifts in Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) have badly affected the progress of the sport. These issues are compounded by a lack of interest and Pakistan’s poor international ranking of 197 internationally in FIFA. The talent and ability of young footballers in Pakistan is also falling to the wayside because they don’t have the infrastructure of facilities to show their skills at an international level. To remedy this, the country has taken part in a national talent hunt, which includes a plan for a flagship football city in Karachi created in collaboration with NED University under the former PM Imran Khan’s Kamyab Jawan Sports Drive. This venture aims to give young footballers a place to shine. The talent hunt was conducted with licensed coaches and provided selected players a chance to further their football careers in Europe. Recently, English footballer Michael James Owen, who played as striker for the Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United, as well as for England’s national team supervised the overall trial with the European coaches and selected 21 Players from all over Pakistan to participate. Mohib Ullah, a 17-year-old from Karachi’s Baldia Town is one of the young footballers who was selected among 21 players for the Europe training tour. His family migrated from Dara Adamkhel, a weapons hub in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his father worked as a labourer and barely earned enough money to survive. Ullah started playing football at a local club in Khyber Muslim in 2011 and soon became a skilled player. When the family moved to Karachi, he started training at Karachi United Football Academy while completing his matriculation education from Baldia Town. He played for Pakistan (U-15) in the South Asian Football Federation game in Nepal in 2018 and (U-16) the Asian Football Confederation Qualification (AFC) in Saudi Arabia in 2019 as Pakistan’s team captain. He said that the future of football is bright in Pakistan, but the country’s domestic drama often affects how much attention is given to the sport. He added that the conditions of the pitches are poor in the country, which makes it hard for athletes to train. He believes his selection for training in Europe will help him advance his career in football internationally. “I was ecstatic when I got selected and a lifelong dream was fulfilled,” Ullah said. The trials for the selection of the talented young footballers were held in ten different cities across Pakistan by the Global Soccer Venture (GSV) under supervision of UEFA Champions League Pro licensed coaches. The trials were held in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, Faisalabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Sukkur, Sialkot, and Muzaffarabad. GSV ambassador Michael Owen visited Lyari in Karachi, a hotbed for talented footballers, in January. The Legend Striker met with young locals, politicians and the Deputy British High Commissioner in his tour to promote football and search for talented players across Pakistan. Ahsanullah 26, another footballer living in Baldia Town was also selected in the talent drive. Ahsanullah, who is currently the goalkeeper of Pakistan’s National Football Team, migrated to Karachi from Swat and picked up his love for the sport from his father and uncle, who also played. “I was watching my uncle’s game as goalkeeper and then I got inspiration from him,” he said. Ahsanullah started playing football in 2006 at a local club called National Shaheen, gradually working his way up through department teams of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and Habib Bank Limited (HBL). He also represented Pakistan in international events around the world. He said the talent hunt is a good opportunity for young people to compete outside Pakistan, which he believes will showcase the potential of the country. “I am lucky to get an opportunity to show my skill and will get training in this club in Europe,” Ahsanullah said. He hopes his training will also give him the opportunity to help his juniors and promote football in Pakistan. Mohammed Zabe Khan, GSV Chief Executive Officer told The Express Tribune that they have selected 21 players during the hunt, five of whom are from Karachi. However, with the sudden change in Pakistan’s politics, he said GSV is reviewing the new government’s policies on the project to decide how to move forward. “We will be finally taking the final decision about the future of this project,” Khan said. He said GSV will complete the project with help from private partners, adding that the date is not finalized yet. “We are not in a mood to delay or rollback this project because we came here in Pakistan for long term planning [and] for the promotion of football,” Khan said. Muddasir Nazir 18, a striker living in Lyari was also selected to tour Europe with his fellows from Karachi. He began playing football as a child for the Lal Bux Football Club in Lyari, later playing for Karachi and Sindh and the national level. He represented Pakistan in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) games in Iran in 2014 and in Nepal in 2018. He believes his selection will be a golden opportunity to learn from well-trained European coaches and players. Another player, Naseer Ahmed, 18, started his football career as a child playing for Ghareeb Shah Union Football Club. He is currently playing at the national level in Pakistan and went to China to play for his Karachi United Football Academy team in 2017. Ahmed’s father works as a labourer and the family isn’t well off, but he said he has always been able to achieve through football. “I am not well educated but I am a good player and football is my passion,” he said. He agrees that football in Pakistan is in poor condition but is confident this will help talented young players bring the industry up to speed. Nabi Bux, 22, from Lyari, was also selected for the program. His father and grandfather were both well-known footballers in Lyari, and he believes soccer is in his blood. He played as a defender for Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) in Karachi team but after the dismissal of departmental sports in PTI’s government, he is currently working in SSGC’s HR section. He trained in JAFA Soccer Academy in Lyari and played for the National Sindh Super League. Bux said over 8,000 thousand players participated in the trials across the country and he feels lucky to be selected as one of 21 players. He said he received a phone call from GSV officials informing him of his selection during Ramazan. He was directed to take his passport for visa for processing, for which he is now waiting for approval. “I am very excited and happy as I will get a chance to fulfil my dreams,” Bux said, adding that he is thankful to his teachers and trainers who encouraged him in the trials. He said it was his grandfather’s dream to see him play in Europe. After completing this training, Bux believes players will be able to transfer new skills and techniques to Pakistani colleagues after they return home.

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