In our Dreamers series, we chat to athletes and sports professionals who envision a bright future, both in their careers and that of the sport in which they participate.
One such individual is Saleem Khan, a footballer turned sports organiser turned coach, who talks about preparing young athletes for the game. He shares his thoughts about the game in Pakistan as well as the future of football there.
Zushan Hashmi: Tell me a bit about your football story.
Saleem Khan: I started playing football at the age of 23 at the district level and at the national level from 1994 to 2006.
I represented Pakistan 7-a-side international in 2004 and represented Pakistan in India as well in 2010 in Chhattisgarh. As a sports organiser, I organise 2 events on an annual basis, the Quaid-e-Azam challenge cup for seniors & Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Football Championship for youth.
With football activities, I’m General Secretary of Ittehad Hockey Club Lahore, a well-known club producing international and national level players.
How did you decide to make a jump to coaching?
My first football club (SKSS) Saleem Khan Soccer School, was playing under 13 champions, which were played for the very first time in the region. I met Klaus Stark who was there and asked me if I was a qualified coach, my team performance inspired him and he recommended my name for the coaching course.
I have been coaching since 2008 on the local level and provisional level both; I was the head coach of Pakistan Whites senior team in 2013, who played in Punjab Youth Festival.
What age groups do you coach?
I am now the head coach of the Bahria Town Football Academy, we have four assistant coaches; and have categorised the children into the four age groups: 5-7, 8-10, 10-14, and 15-23.
Can you tell us about some of the star players?
Muhammad Bilal (represented Pakistan White 2013, played in Pokhara Nepal, 7-ASIDE in 2017), Waleed Humayoun (represented Pakistan 7-a-side, Pokhara Nepal 2018) currently playing for the University of Boston, USA, Arham Bodla (represented Pakistan 7-ASIDE in Pokhara Nepal), Ali Khawar (represented Pakistan U-15 in SAAF championship in Nepal) and Nawaz Bhutta and Ali Raza (played in Pakistan National Camp).
What are the challenges of being a coach in Pakistan?
Unfortunately players are not consistent nowadays, they have less passion for the game, meanwhile there are zero funds, no sponsorship opportunities, and eventually, year by year, talent is wasted by peer pressure and other factors.
What causes you to continue coaching?
After facing all these problems on and off the pitch, I have still achieved a lot in a small period. When I see athletes eager and keen to keep going, while improving and developing their fitness and lifestyles, that is incentive enough for me.
In your opinion what are the options to improve football in Pakistan?
There should be a structure. The federation must hire professional trainers, each player who deserves it must get the chance to play for their team.
We also need the media to promote local-level tournaments and provincial level tournaments, official teams must be consistent, each player must get paid, each local level club must have all the faculty that id required in any club.
Pakistan makes 80% of the worlds football but unfortunately, local clubs don’t get that equipment or better balls, and the PFF do not even have an official stadium.
Pakistan is an developing country if we want to improve our football, everyone must play their role, and collectively we can improve.
What is the future of Bahria Town Football Academy (BTFA)?
Saleem Khan: Bahria Football Academy has a bright future. There are some reasons for that. BTFA is a developed club, has talented players with a passion, have all the things they need to improve their game, have many talented players, they are great players and their parents support them, they are disciplined, and they train every day. Especially the young kids, who have many qualities and passion.
This team has played friendly matches against the Pakistan national U-15 team and have won against them 2-0. They also won the Athletico Cup 2018 and won Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Challenge Cup.
BTFA has hosted a few elite foreigners too, such as Dr. Ullah Nagel, Ambassador of Football Club Dynamo, Dresden Germany also paid a visit to the BTFA and former National goalkeeping Coach from Poland, Marek Bragos also visited the BTFA and coached our young players too.
AFC instructor Ardshir Pournenat from Iran paid a visit and national coaches Muhammad Shahid and Muhammad Tahir, from Maldives and Afghanistan, respectively, came to our academy.
When do you think Pakistan can compete to play in a World cup?
Pakistan needs a master plan if we want to see our team ata world cup. That master plan must have all the facilities, players must be brought in at a young age and must play with their attached academy until a senior age.
The PFF must hire professionals and a proper platform must be given to the community, a system like Europe must be applied here too.
Meanwhile. departments must make at least 20 academies, media coverage should be provided on a local level and all the facilities and above all everyone must give their 100 percent and with the best intention. We need to work hard and this is a change that must occur.
The environment in the official camps is so poor that no top quality players emerge from there.