Ronaldinho, the magician is on the ball. He dribbles past one player, nutmegs the other, ah, the sheer elegance, what a sight to behold! Ronaldinho spots Pires and oh, there it is, one of his famous no-look passes and it finds Robert Pires who effortlessly lobs a threading-the-needle pass right on the plate for Anelka and his sublime header is goal-bound. But wait, what a terrific save that is from David James, unbelievable! James collects the ball and hits it down the park and it finds Ryan Giggs who darts down the flank, cuts in, absolutely unstoppable but he is taken down! That’s a foul. And the referee has given a free kick. Surely, it’s way too far to attempt for the goal. But then what is ‘too far’ for Roberto Carlos? Does it even matter when he is on the dead ball? He places the ball carefully, artistically, making sure he wants his foot to meet just the sweetest spot of that football. He takes like a hundred steps back for a mini sprint, his eyes are locked in and there is pin drop silence. Carlos is transported to another world, another dimension where it's just him, the football and the target. He approaches the ball and hits it like a thunderbolt and it’s flying like a tracer bullet doing tricks we have only seen in Hollywood movies, defying the laws of gravity, ridiculing physics, swaying its way right into the top corner and it’s a GOAL!!!!! The crowd goes berserk, Karachi erupts, brilliant scenes!
Did you ever think that this was a possibility? That of all the places in the world, Pakistan would be hosting something as huge as this? Pakistan is a Cricket loving nation, the people here live and breathe the sport. But even then, we are so unfortunate that we haven’t seen our own cricket super stars perform here at the home grounds in ages, let alone the universal legends of Football. But now, to see some of the world’s greatest footballers step foot on our soil and grace us with their magic is absolutely beautiful and it’s all down to the efforts from Leisure Leagues Pakistan and ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations). ISPR’s interest in holding this event was visible when the DG ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor, tweeted recently; “We welcome Ronaldinho and his team to Pakistan July 6-8 in coordination with Leisure Leagues”. It was a source of comfort to see that Pakistan Army took keen interest in the event and the security for the whole occasion was in able hands. Pakistan army has made sure that these international superstars made their appearance in the country and this whole event would not have been possible without ISPR’s help.
The World Group is the company behind the UK-based Leisure Leagues. It existed in only three countries; United Kingdom, United States of America and Republic of Ireland. Pakistan is only the fourth country where Leisure Leagues have been introduced. It is a huge project and #RonaldinhoAndFriends is the evidence of that. To host an event of this magnitude in a country like Pakistan, about which the common perception in the world is that it’s “not a safe place”, is a great achievement in itself. But this is not it; through this project, international scouts will be coming to Pakistan. A trial camp will be set up, from which five players will be chosen every year and these players will get to train in the US and if they impress, can become professional footballers.
There are other initiatives as well - The representatives of The World Group say that they have been talking to the provincial governments in Pakistan for help in acquiring land for football grounds for the youth of Pakistan. There has been a promising response from the provincial governments, especially the Punjab government which is willing to provide as many as 100 grounds if the promises are delivered by The World Group. Leisure Leagues is definitely a business venture and not every young football enthusiast in Pakistan can afford their facilities but there are some of the teams (around 10 percent) who get to play for free in their state of the art facilities. The selection of these teams is purely based on merit and need. Also, there is going to be a league in Lyari that will be completely free of charge. The modest region of Lyari is the hub for the most talented footballers in Pakistan which is why the idea of a free, state of the art league in Lyari promises that this mega event is not just an exhibition match, but more of a foundation stone for great things to come in Pakistan football.
We, Pakistanis are a battered nation. We have seen brutality at first hand and we still are experiencing it. There is so little respite. Our own athletes can’t perform at their home grounds. The sporting world thinks of us as Cricket lovers but we are hardly just that. Football runs deep through the veins of Pakistani youth. We know the audacious Ronaldinho freekick in the 2002 FIFA World Cup that left David Seaman a stunned man in the English goal. We know that Ronaldinho was the man who took the young Lionel Messi under his wings when he made his first appearance for Barcelona. We know that Ryan Giggs is one of the most decorated Footballers in the world having won 34 major trophies and we remember his sublime solo goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal in 1999. We know that Robert Pires was part of The Invincibles, that famous Arsenal team of 2003-04 that went unbeaten throughout the season. We have seen that curler from Roberto Carlos in 1997 against France a thousand times.
English Premiere League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga are religiously followed in Pakistan. The level of understanding the laws, the transfer market, the players and their strengths, the teams and their managers is just as good as you’ll see anywhere in the world. We know our football and we love it. We are just unfortunate that it has been left to rot but that’s about to change. Having these big names in our midst in the same year that saw international players pulling out from PSL final earlier this year is a sign of great things to come. Though, let’s not forget that despite everything, some international players still had faith in the country and did not let their fans down and stayed for the final, which took place in the heart of Lahore.
The Leisure Leagues Football will help highlight the sponsors and the organizers efforts in promoting sports in the country, it will contribute in presenting a better image and this event will surely help endorse the revival of international sports in Pakistan. From holding sporting events in the country to letting the world know how amazingly talented, deeply enthusiastic and organized our people are and the passion shown by Pakistan’s youth for this occasion is an evidence that football in this country has a great future. Not to forget, the organizers of this event (Leisure Leagues and ISPR) have the Pakistanis’ utmost gratitude for making this happen.
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