Building a solid foundation
Serbia’s Zavisa Milosavljevic is hoping to put Pakistan
football on the right track
By Alam Zeb Safi
It is an accepted fact that in spite of having a lot of potential Pakistan have failed to progress in the field of football. The low standing of Pakistan in the football world can be attributed to defective planning, flaws in the domestic league structure, a lack of vision, improper training programmes and dearth of resources.
Building a solid foundation
Serbia’s Zavisa Milosavljevic is hoping to put Pakistan
football on the right track
By Alam Zeb Safi
It is an
accepted fact that in spite of having a lot of potential Pakistan have
failed to progress in the field of football. The low standing of
Pakistan in the football world can be attributed to defective planning,
flaws in the domestic league structure, a lack of vision, improper
training programmes and dearth of resources.
According to the new
rankings issued by the world football governing body (FIFA) last week,
Pakistan have slumped further and now they are ranked 181st, three
places lower than the war-ravaged Afghanistan who now stand at 178th
following their brilliant performance in the SAFF Cup in New Delhi where
they reached the final against India.
Last year, Pakistan
suffered badly in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, Olympic Qualifiers,
World Cup Qualifiers and then in the SAFF Cup. But no one bothered about
the reasons of these failures. When a top official of the Pakistan
Football Federation (PFF) said in a statement during the FIFA World Cup
in South Africa last year that Pakistan would qualify for the 2022 World
Cup, experts treated it as a ridiculous claim.
The critics were right
as the country will need progress in the field by leaps and bounds if
the nation wants to achieve the milestone of qualifying for the World
Cup. It will be like a
dream come true if Pakistan plays the World Cup. But we may not be alive
to see this.
After the turmoil
experienced by Pakistan in major international events, PFF finally
signed on November 5 last year a Serbian coach — Zavisa Milosavljevic
— for two years. He has been given the responsibility of working on
not only the senior team, but also the youth and coaches of the country.
Zavisa acted as
Pakistan coach when the team failed to progress beyond the league stage
in the SAFF Cup after all their three group games against the Maldives,
Nepal and Bangladesh ended in draw.
But the Serbian should
not be blamed for the poor performance of Pakistan as he was assigned
the task barely twenty days before that tournament. He remains
optimistic that if he stays for a few years and his demands about
training are met by the authorities he will turn the national team into
a fighting unit. Zavisa is also impressed by the Pakistan colts and has
stressed working properly on them to make them fully prepared for
‘The News on
Sunday’ recently talked to him in detail about future plans for
Pakistan football. Here are a few excerpts.
TNS: What do you think
about the talent base in Pakistan?
Pakistani nation has great potential. I saw a lot of talented young
TNS: If there is
talent, how can it be improved and polished to make the future of
football in Pakistan stronger?
Zavisa: All teams in
the Premier League must have youth categories as a condition to
participate in the league. It’s known that creating a top level
national team requires a period of at least eight to ten years. In that
building period players must pass throughout five developmental phases:
period of learning, game, and mini-competition (8-14 years), period of
learning, pre-training and competition (14-16 years), period of training
and competition (16-18 years), period of super training and competition
(18 years and more); and period of super training and super competition
(senior national team).
TNS: Last year,
Pakistan under-16 team won the SAFF Cup in Nepal by beating India in the
final. What should the PFF do now with that team to turn it into a
fighting lot for future?
Zavisa: If they meet
the requirements I have mentioned, I must say that the young guns could
be prepared properly.
TNS: You have signed
as a coach for two years. Are you optimistic that you will be able to
get desired results?
Zavisa: Making a
competitive senior team needs coaching stint for at least two to four
years. During the period, programme of training must be fully followed.
The newly proposed programme requires good strategy and plan: Target:
What is our final aim? Analysis: Where are we now? Vision: Where do we
want to be? Action: How do we get there? Control: Are we getting that?
TNS: Pakistan will
feature in the Asian Cup Under-22 Qualifiers. What is your plan for that
and what chances do you see for the team?
Zavisa: We have made a
comprehensive training plan and our target will be to qualify for the
final round to be held in 2013.
TNS: What do you think
about the league structure in Pakistan and how can it be improved?
Zavisa: It is
absolutely necessary to professionalise the league structure.
TNS: Should Pakistan
establish a football academy? If yes, then on what basis should it be
Zavisa: Of course,
there should be an academy and the model should be that of the
Netherlands, Serbia, Spain and Japan.
TNS: Are you confident
that Pakistan senior team will be able to perform in the AFC Challenge
Cup Qualifiers next year?
Zavisa: Definitely, if
we are going to play with a full team, also including foreign-based
TNS: Are pitches in
Zavisa: No, they need
TNS: Also tell us
about your personal life and football career for Serbia?
Zavisa: I did not play
for the national team of Serbia. Since 1986 I have been working as a
professional coach. Before opting for the job in Pakistan, I served
Serbia, Monte Negro, Rwanda, and Lesotho in the same capacity.
TNS: What do you think
about coaching job in Pakistan? Is it not challenging?
Zavisa: A great
professional challenge for me. I hope to make it a success.
TNS: Are you enjoying
your life in Lahore?
Zavisa: In the
beautiful and great country with hospitable and friendly people, I enjoy
myself a lot.
TNS: What type of
Pakistani food do you like?
Zavisa: Roti, kabab
TNS: How many
foreign-based players are needed by Pakistan?
Zavisa: All players
who are willing to sacrifice for Pakistan.
TNS: Any security
concerns in Pakistan?
Zavisa: Pakistan is my
Don Bradman — in that cricket’s-a-gay-and-grand-old-pastime-and-verily-blessed-are-we-to-be-its-custodians way he had of talking — once wrote about the first ball of international competition he ever sat witness to and how the memory of it never left him. Sydney, 1921, and it wasn’t the tremors hinted at by Jack Gregory’s delivery or the fineness of Jack Hobbs’ leave-alone or the gum-leaf greenness of the Ladies Stand roof that stirred 12-year-old Donald to turn to his dad George and murmur something admiring. No, what impressed Bradman was a squatting, stumpy fellow with a coiled explosion of carpet where his moustache was supposed to be, Hanson “Sammy” Carter, the wicketkeeper, or, rather, Bradman liked the blissful-seeming way Carter caught that delivery of Gregory’s, right in the cup of his glove, or, more particularly, Bradman thrilled to the noise this made. Noise? Hard to summon up in words. Yet the noise was weirdly soothing. Here’s Bradman’s best stab at describing it — “that gorgeous soft dull sound”.
Almost anyone who goes to the ground to watch cricket of whatever standard knows that noise. It signifies a ball’s safe landing in the double palm formed by a wicketkeeper’s two catching hands, and also that those hands are imparting the just-right amount of tension, being firm enough that the ball clings but not so over-anxiously firm that it clangs out again. That’s what is going on at a technical level. There’s also a non-technical, bordering-on-psychological dimension. When a ball settles in a wicketkeeper’s gloves - not with a click, thud, smack, slap or a kiss, but with, as Bradman correctly put it, a gorgeous soft dull sound - there’s an air of effortless nonchalance to the motion. This can muck with a batsman’s head. No half chances, the batsman now knows, will get fumbled today. He knows as well that the wicketkeeper is hungry for the ball. More than that, the wicketkeeper is willing the ball his way, ravenously, until the wicket-keeper — a job with a passive-sounding ring to it — turns predatory in the batsman’s head, into something more like a wicket-taker, except that phrase gets used to describe bowlers, so let’s think up something pointier; say, a wicket-grabber. Better yet — a wicket-clawer. A batsman has enough going on in front of his eyes to fret about. Someone clawing and grabbing at him from behind as well is just mind-screwing.
Wicketkeeping’s different like that. It has its straight-up technical basics. It also has an element of hocus-pocus. The basics include body shape. Ideally a wicketkeeper should be slightly stocky but without the stockiness having turned to fat. He stands about 5ft 8in, so he’s short, and nimble, but not so elf-like that he spends his whole day lunging and sprawling off tiptoes. He crouches low as the bowler approaches. He delays springing up till as late as he dares. He skates across the grass with a boxer’s rapid sidesteps. Balls outside off, visible all the way, are relatively easy takes. But it’s essential that he spies early the inswinger veering down leg side and starts shifting half his body weight in that direction before the ball enters his blind zone, and it’s no less crucial that he should, when circumstances call for it, and as a way of geeing up the ten other fielders, be able, every now and then, to perform — hocus-pocus alert! — miracles. By miracles, I mean gravity-dissolving leaps that send cricket watchers scrambling for their phones and texting their friends, only when the text message freezes at the point of transmission you just know it’s because the whole world’s on the phone texting about the catch they’ve seen, which is pretty much the way it was in post-war London in 1948, minus the mobile telephones and the drawn-out SMS hiatuses, when Bundaberg’s Don Tallon went grass-skiing on his left elbow to catch Len Hutton. It was like that at the 1975 World Cup when Rod Marsh’s dolphin-bellied dive right got rid of Tony Greig, and likewise at the Adelaide Oval in 1999, the day Adam Gilchrist produced a popping-eyeballed-kangaroo’s-just-skolled-a-litre-of-Gatorade jump to pull down a Sourav Ganguly hook shot.
Brad Haddin took this catch once. Australia were playing Pakistan in Sydney. Salman Butt was batting. Haddin spotted that Butt was planning a leg-glance, flew, flung out his right arm, and intercepted the ball in a twinkle so electric Tubby Taylor bellowed on TV “ripper, absolute screamer, oh that’s a beauty”.
“Courage” was rated by Bradman a key compulsory characteristic of wicketkeepers. He gave some mini-definitions: courage in playing on with battered, purpling hands (Haddin wears finger guards under his gloves, and calls them “a keeper’s best friend”); courage in not being cowed by the danger of facial or body blows; courage in keeping up concentration on hot days when every joint and sinew hurts. Bradman settled ultimately on “moral as well as physical courage”. John Benaud, a selector of 1990s Australian teams, labelled it “toughness”. “Marsh,” he named as an example, “played his cricket — indeed, often approached life — as if he were in a perpetual tennis tie-breaker.”
Toughness or courage embraces, in large part, self-confidence, and non-nervousness. The casual cricket watcher might suspect the following of Haddin: too inclined to not go for catches and to let first slip deal with them instead, too slow to sniff out a ball’s likely flight path - too far back from the stumps, maybe. “He is a nervous guy,” Gilchrist commented after Haddin’s breakthrough Test ton with the bat, a 169 against New Zealand, and “with this hundred what he is going to do is grow in confidence.”
It is hard being Haddin. A wicketkeeper in a titanium helmet does not scream out courage, but titanium’s in vogue. Present-day acoustics do Haddin no favours either: Hanson Carter’s trusty gardening gloves have metamorphosed into modern manufacturing’s baseball-style mitts — and balls landing in a rubbery horizon of webbing between a wicketkeeper’s thumb and forefinger simply don’t sound so lovely.
And apart from being courageous and tough a wicketkeeper’s expected to be the suave gentleman always, to have romance in his veins. Bert Oldfield once caught the genius writer RC Robertson-Glasgow at Christ Church Ground in 1921. Not out, said the umpire. Oldfield waited uncomplainingly till over’s end before whispering to Robertson-Glasgow: “You hit that, didn’t you? Ah, I thought so. Oh, it doesn’t matter about the decision. It was the catch I was thinking about.”
Try walking in those footsteps. It’s a tall order — especially if you’re Brad from Queanbeyan via Gundagai.
Time tricks us, trips us. Haddin was an uncapped and rosy-cheeked youth when his old Canberra Comets coach Mike Veletta was enthusing about this new “very aggressive” batsman and “chirpy” wicketkeeper. “Chirpy” got Haddin about right — and Haddin has got 43 Tests out of it. He has been “rested” for three one-day matches, and we won’t be seeing him in the next two either, and the team to tour the Caribbean has still to be announced. The next gorgeous soft dull sound you’ll hear is the sound of the selectors slamming the door on Haddin.
A pace arsenal
During the summer of 2010, when Pakistan were playing against England, it was said that Pakistan had the world’s best fast bowling attack. After the series Pakistan lost Mohammad Asif and Muhammad Amir to the spot-fixing scandal. Since then, Pakistan have failed to find a winning combination of fast bowlers.
We have tried a number of bowlers since the departure of the spot-fixing duo, but none of them has performed consistently enough to cement his place.
The vastly-experienced Tanvir Ahmed impressed in his first Test, but his performance declined gradually and consequently he fell out of favour with the national selectors. Also, he is about 32, so he cannot be really considered as a long term prospect.
Left-armer Junaid Khan did well on some occasions but has largely failed to live up to expectations. In the One-day International series against West Indies last year, he was far from being impressive, taking only three wickets from five games. In the one-off Test against Zimbabwe, he got only one wicket despite bowling 31 overs. In the two one-dayers he played against Zimbabwe, he could get only one wicket.
Similar is the case of Aizaz Cheema. He took eight wickets in his first Test, against Zimbabwe, but in the only Test he played against Sri Lanka, Junaid managed just two wickets. Then he performed well on the Bangladesh tour, but failed miserably against England in the first and the third Tests, managing just a single wicket. Besides, like Tanvir Ahmad, he has also entered the international arena quite late and can play for only a few years.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Zaka Ashraf said following the team’s triumph against England in the Test series that he wants to see Pakistan at the top of the cricket world. If Pakistan are to achieve that goal, consistent fast bowlers will have to be found for partnering with Umar Gul who has been the only dependable bowler since Asif and Amir were thrown out of the cricket world. Apart from his wicket-less performance in the first Test against West Indies, after which he was dropped, he has lived up to the expectations.
Pakistan cannot just count on their spinners for pitches of all kinds. Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman may not perform as well in Australia, England or South Africa as they have done in the UAE and Bangladesh. To win in these countries, Pakistan will need to find at least two performers like Umar Gul.
Looking at the current fast bowling stock of the country, one nostalgically remembers the late 1990s, when the emergence of Shoaib Akhtar, Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq led to the ouster of the talented Aaqib Javed at the young age of 26. Pakistan’s cricket authorities must work very hard to produce fast bowling options like we had in that era or stop dreaming of a World Cup victory.
Pakistani tennis players featuring at the London Olympics this summer and making their presence felt in it seems like a far cry at the moment.
But ask Aqeel Khan, one of Pakistan’s most experienced tennis players, and he will tell you that it’s very much possible. Aqeel says he is very optimistic for participation in Olympics in the tournament. “We have been playing for around 12 years together and Aisam knows my weaknesses and strengths well so I think we make a good combination,” Aqeel told ‘The News on Sunday’.
So far, hockey is the only sport in which Pakistan have qualified for the London Games. And the way things are going right now, it seems that Pakistan won’t have many athletes partaking in the quadrennial spectacle, which will kick off in the British capital on July 27.
Pakistan’s tennis fraternity believes that Aqeel Khan and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi can represent the country in the London Games. Pakistan have never taken part in Olympic tennis, but with Aisam earning a place in the world top-10 doubles rankings, the chances are high that Pakistan will feature in the London Games.
“Aqeel should play as many tournaments as he can to improve his rankings so that when we team up, we have a good international standing, which would help us in qualifying for London Olympics,” says Aisam, who is Pakistan’s most successful tennis player ever. “Hopefully if we manage to qualify for the Olympics it will be the first ever participation from Pakistan in the prestigious event. We are looking forward to achieve the great feat,” Aisam says.
He is ranked ninth in doubles in international circuit. He has had successful seasons with former partner Indian Rohan Bopanna.
To qualify for the Olympics, Aisam has to defend his top-10 rankings till June, while Aqeel must accumulate a few points in international singles or doubles events to make a strong bid for the Olympics. Aqeel says he is looking forward to play in Vietnam, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other events.
“I will achieve my part,” he says. Aisam has a more challenging part to play because defending top-10 rankings is not an easy task, he says.
Aisam and Aqeel recently led Pakistan to a 3-2 win over Lebanon at their home soil in Davis Cup Asia/Oceania zone group II tie.
Aisam and Aqeel won one and lost one each in singles, but managed to beat their opponents in doubles encounter. The tie was originally scheduled to be played in Pakistan, but the Lebanese were reluctant to come to Pakistan so International Tennis Federation (ITF) moved the venue to Beirut, Lebanon.
Pakistan will now meet Philippines in the second round match to be played from April 6-8. Philippines routed Pacific Oceania 5-0 in a one-sided opening round clash.
Pakistan’s tennis authorities are trying to host the second round tie against Philippines in Lahore but it seems unlikely because the ITF seems all set vote against it due to security fears. It will be a huge blow for Pakistan as they will find it tough to beat Philippines in hot and humid Manila where the tie is likely to be played on tricky clay courts.
The UEFA Champions League for the 2011-12 season resumed last week with the first four bouts of the knockout round. Arsenal travelled to Italy to face AC Milan, who had won only 4 of their last 19 Champions League games, and had exited the competition at the same stage in the last three years, losing every time to an English side.
Arsenal were coming off a rollercoaster of emotions going into this match, with their 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn followed by a steely, grinding victory over Sunderland, that too achieved only at the very end by a Thierry Henry goal. The former Arsenal, and currently New York Red Bulls player scored three goals in seven appearances during his loan stint at the club, which included the winners in his first and last game. Most considered the goal at Sunderland, scored by Henry in the dying moments of a hard-fought game, as reaffirming the Frenchman’s status among the club’s all time greatest, others noting wryly that his ability to get an assist out of Arshavin (who has been very poor this season) was a feat in itself.
Going into the match against AC Milan, few could have expected that Henry’s swansong in the Premier League would be marred by a thumping in the Champions League, and for good reason. Arsenal are known for the pace of their passing and movement as much as Milan are known for lacking both. Since Pirlo’s departure to Juventus, there has been a stark lack of creativity in the Rossoneri midfield, and the manager’s plan appears to have been to barricade the midfield and leave the attacking three to create and execute their own chances on goal. With Pato’s recurring injuries, this has led to Milan’s attack becoming one dimensional and heavily dependent on the ability and, to an extent the mood, of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Fortunately for Milan, the lanky Swede, who suffers a reputation as a perennial underperformer against ‘big sides’, especially on the European stage, was in the mood to win on Wednesday night.
Milan have failed to progress past this stage of the competition for the past few years now, and the blame has been laid at the false sense of entitlement to European glory that the club still carries from the days when their squad boasted the likes of Maldini, Nesta, Pirlo, Shevchenko and the like. Now, with a squad that is still in transition, and tactics that rarely please the eye, there is no automatic right to success in Europe as there was in seasons past. In order to come out with a win here, Milan would have to contend with the pace of Walcott and Van Persie’s movement in the centre. In Thiago Silva, Milan have one of the finest defenders in Europe, but it was on the wings where they could get caught out, as Abate and especially Antonini, have proven inconsistent at best. In midfield, Milan could be expected to set out the usual threesome of Seedorf, Nocerino Van Bommel. The latter two would be needed to close down Rosicky and Ramsey’s passing, while Seedorf would be needed to link up play with Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic.
For his part, Arsene Wenger got his tactics wrong in this one. Packing the midfield with the four of Song, Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky congested the area to Arsenal’s detriment. Rosicky’s deployment in a deep role, coupled with Van Persie’s style of dropping back to collect the ball, meant that Walcott was left as the only Arsenal player in a position to run beyond the striker. There was no drive from the left wing, as Gibbs was kept busier trying to contend with Nocerino, whom he could not trouble much. With no winger to support him further up the field, Gibbs was completely neutralised as far as attacking is concerned.
On the other wing, another poor showing by Walcott meant that Sagna had little support going forward, and no one to get on the end of any cross he hit. In the centre, Koscielny was surprisingly the more solid of the two defenders, as Vermaelen had a game to forget. While Koscielny was also having his fair share of problems in dealing with Ibrahimovic, Djourou was completely catastrophic, barely getting a touch in ahead of the striker, and eventually hauling him down in the penalty area for the last goal of the game.
In midfield, Song was left with too much to do in front of a struggling back four and an outclassed midfield three. Arteta and Ramsey are players capable of influencing a game only with the ball at their feet, and Nocerino, Van Bommel and eventually Emanuelson made sure this did not happen often enough. Rosicky was also guilty of hogging the ball on various occasions, which is a sure sign that while he may be forcibly deployed in midfield, his mentality of playing an advanced role just behind the striker has yet to change. The Czech tried time and again to land the ball at Van Persie’s feet, and where he did succeed to get avoid Milan’s midfield wall, he found that Mexes and Silva had Van Persie completely smothered.
The end result was Milan equalling their best ever Champions League result, and Arsenal succumbing to their worst defeat in Europe. A little piece of history that should satisfy and demoralise both sides respectively is the fact that no side has ever recovered from a 4-0 deficit to progress in the competition. Arsene Wenger needs to take a better look at his squad and recognise that with this current ensemble and the state they are in, the trophy cabinet at the Emirates stadium cannot be added to.