KARACHI: It’s going to be some international debut for Maria Khan at the SAFF Women’s Championship next month. In her very first game donning Pakistan colours, she will also be wearing the captain’s armband.
Maria was named captain of Pakistan’s first women’s football team in almost eight years when the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee announced its 23-member squad for the regional tournament in Nepal on Friday.
The tournament kicks off on Sept 6 and Maria’s international bow is set to come against India the following day after FIFA on Friday lifted the suspension on the All India Football Federation.
However, Maria is not allowed to express what it means to her just yet. The PFF NC has apparently issued a strict gag order on the players and Maria didn’t disclose how she felt at being handed the responsibility of leading the team when asked for comment by Dawn.
“As of right now I’m in competition mode and would politely defer you to the coaching staff for any immediate feedback,” she said in a written message.
The PFF spokesperson told Dawn that the NC had a “policy in place on the coaches’ recommendation to prevent players from speaking to media personnel”.
“However, for an immediate interview or quote, the NC can be contacted,” the spokesperson added.
NC member Shahid Khokhar, who used to handle the media matters previously, told Dawn that “the players, especially the captain, would be made available soon and they had been kept away from the media to help them focus on their football”.
There was no response from Khokhar on how interaction with the media shifts players’ focus away from game. In the news release sent by Khokhar announcing the squad, there was also no reaction from Maria.
In what seems to be throwback to the policy that was prevalent during the time of the previous PFF setup where interview requests were routinely denied and players were sanctioned for speaking to the media, the moment was lost for UAE-based Maria to express on her journey to getting into the team and finally being named captain.
Maria went from being goalkeeper in the United States to midfielder in the United Arab Emirates while also representing Wapda in the National Championships in 2018 and 2019 with her performances bringing her into national reckoning.
But Pakistan football has been beset with institutional crisis in the PFF and forced FIFA to install a Normalisation Committee to settle the affairs of the federation.
It has impacted women’s football most with the national team having last played in 2014. Only seven players from that squad remain in the current side, including vice-captain Malika-e-Noor and former captain and star striker Hajra Khan.
The SAFF Women’s Championship will end that long drought and the PFF NC has also roped in UK-based midfielder Nadia Khan.
Nadia, who plays for Doncaster Rovers Belles, is due to join the squad in Nepal.
The NC had earlier appointed Adeel Rizki as the head coach for the team and he along with his assistant Walid Javed Khan had been holding a training camp for the team since the first week of August in Lahore. They had held trials previously to shortlist 35 players for the camp.
Like Maria, Adeel too hasn’t been made available to the media and his announcement as head coach only came through a post on social media.
The PFF NC has also not explained why Adeel, who holds a UEFA ‘B’ license but has never coached a team in either the men’s Pakistan Premier Football League or the National Women’s Championship, was appointed.
The only reasoning the PFF NC has given is that it is making a “coaching panel and officials from it will be picked and appointed for national team assignments”.
Squad: Alina Ispahani, Anmol Hira, Atiqa Nasir, Ghazala Amir, Hajra Khan, Khadija Kazmi, Maliha Nasir, Malika-e-Noor (vice-captain), Maria Khan (captain), Marvi Baig, Mishal Bhatti, Nadia Khan, Nisha Ashraf, Nizalia Siddiqui, Rameen Fareed, Roshnan Ali, Sahar Zaman, Sara Khan, Shani Shahida, Shanzay Nazir, Suha Hirani, Syeda Mahpara and Zulfia Nazir.
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2022