Pakistan football has always been caught up in the vortex of irregular productions, crises, and controversy, relying merely on fixtures. This led FIFA Pakistan to intervene by appointing a Normalisation Committee to oversee the affairs of the PFF within the time frame of six months. In this regard, Football Federation, in July, announced the appointment of Atletico Madrid’s Daniel Limones as its technical director for six months. Hailing from Spain, Limones is a UEFA Pro License coach and was known for his association with Spanish La Liga giants Club Atletico de Madrid and has also been working with the club’s academy in Lahore as a head coach. Talking to Pakistan Facts, Limones discussed his time in Pakistan, the effects of the pandemic on football, the promotion of football in the country, etc. Also, he weighed up the future of football in the country considering all the problems underway.
Pakistan Facts (PF): What simulated you to come to Pakistan? How is your time going here?
Daniel Limones (DL): I was working with Club Atletico when suddenly the management of Atletico proposed a new challenge of going abroad to develop an academy of Atletico Madrid there. Initially, I didn’t know about the exact destination, neither the management mentioned it to me because we have academies all over the world including countries like Panama and the Dominican Republic. I went to the meeting without knowing anything. Upon hearing that the academy will be developed in Pakistan, I sensed a challenge for me in this and decided to go because challenges have always put interests in my life. I have been here for the past two years and have experienced a great cultural diversity, very different from I what I used to see there in Spain. Overall, my experience is so great.
PF: That’s a great achievement on your part to arrange training camp for Women’s Football after a seven-year hiatus. How was that experience?
DL: First of all, I think I am the one who’s immensely grateful for being given the opportunity of holding this training camp because for me this training camp has been the biggest thing that I have ever done in football. This was one of the targets I had when I started coaching some 18 years ago, so for me, it has been my biggest achievement in life. The feedback that I got from the players, at the end of the one-week camp, made my feeling even better. The camp created hype around and this was one of our targets to put the Women’s National team back in the football scene for the promotion of more sports in Pakistan. Though we faced a lot of questions criticizing us for arranging a camp without any tour and competition, our main objective was to let players know that they are important and the real stars of the Football Federation. Through this camp, I think that the players have got this message because they felt really good after the training, so we can say that this has been a success.
PF: Are there any upcoming football tournaments lined up?
DL: Due to the novel COVID-19 situation, the first thing we are going to focus on is the domestic tournament that can take place anytime between the end of December or January 2021. But the main focus will be on Asian Cup that’s also going to take place in 2021. Along with this, the tournament will also be arranged for Women’s Football. Though the Asian Cup will take place in September 2021, the gathering of players and practice is hindered due to the pandemic. The players cannot be asked to gather just one month before the tournament as this will not be sufficient. The players need to know each other and develop a network, so we are trying to plan regular activities with the national team, starting now, so the players get to know each other till the September’s tournament. We also have some plans for the under 17 and 20 teams. Luckily, during these training camps, we had a lot of players who were under 20, and one player was under 17. Along with the setting up of tournaments, we’ll also appoint the president of the national team for carrying out regular football activities in Pakistan.
PF: What impact do you think COVID-19 has on the arrangement of football-related activities?
DL: The COVID situation is obviously very tough as it has proved to be fatal all around the world. But we have to learn to coexist with this as people are learning how to minimize the risk. I think there is no need to close down the sports activities or academies because the first thing we need is to detect the risk and then to teach people how to prevent themselves from this virus. So, it’s a situation that we have to understand and we have to exist side-by-side with. People have to take responsibility in this case. I also have to take care of myself, the people who surround me, and players as well. Regarding the plans, everything is depended on the guidelines provided by the government because we cannot escape and deny those regulations. Right now, the situation is tough but we are planning things the safer way. If more restrictions are imposed, we’d have to figure out a plan B to keep the sports activities going. I hope that football doesn’t get much affected because for the past two months, the football activities in the country have revamped and we are finally heading towards the right track, so we should try to stop it from getting it affected by the pandemic. Sports are important for the healthcare of the people and they also help people to socialize, so for me, sports are an important part of one’s life.
PF: In your viewpoint, the coach’s part is very important in building up a team. So, how do you plan to structure that in Pakistan?
DL: The first thing I did in this regard was the conduction of the ‘C’ License course that was held in September. We had around 60 participants, 30 from Karachi and 30 from Lahore, who right now, are in the work experience module. They are attending training sessions with certified coaches from all over the country. This first batch of coaches will be receiving the passing certificates if they pass their course in the mid of November. We are planning to move forward with this and improve the system of coaching because for the last 7 to 10 years there has not been a diploma coaching course in Pakistan. So, we have to improve our allocation system and the contents that we are delivering to our aspiring coaches. AFC is going to give us the approval to deliver those B and A coaching diplomas which will allow the coaches to work in professional clubs all over the world. Meanwhile, we’ll conduct more C diplomas because we have to make the coach’s pool bigger than it is. In a country of 200 million people, we only have 300 coaches which need to be increased. Moreover, the competition between the coaches will push them to perform better with every passing day.
PF: In your 6-month contract, what are your main targets regarding football in Pakistan, and how do you plan to execute them?
DL: I always say that in six months, it is very difficult to change the whole system which was induced for the past 10 or 15 years in Pakistan. The main target has always been to provide a blueprint or a foundation of how things should work in the field. These six months will be dedicated to putting things in order, following the right track. In football, coaching matters, national team matters, academies, or grassroots level matters, so attention was needed in all these departments. From the competition aspect, we are planning to hold the National Cup in November which may get delayed owing to the ongoing pandemic situation. These four or five matters are the most important ones for the proper functioning of football in Pakistan. There are also some things that we are starting from scratch, so they will be requiring more time investments, possibly 2 or 3 years. Even though there are many hardships that we are facing, but I just want to live to that foundation which can take 5 to 10 years in order to get closer to what’s happening outside the border.
PF: Messi or Ronaldo, who is the best player according to you?
DL: For me, they are different players and they are best in their aspects. Messi is more complete than Ronaldo, but Ronaldo for me is the best striker and player in history because he can change anything with just one touch inside of a box. Saying that who is more determined with more influence in the development of football, I think that Messi can take a match under control better than Ronaldo. Both of them are best in what they do.
Pakistan Facts: What message do you have for football fans in Pakistan?
Daniel Limones: The main thing, I think, is to support. Due to the turmoil of the past few years and due to the political situation of PFF, people are getting pissed off of football scenarios which always made them think that something shady and negative is going to happen in Pakistan regarding football. We cannot forget that the main stars of this are the players and the coaches, who are suffering most due to this situation. With the absence of any international tours, we are just playing the official fixtures with the national team. We need to remind ourselves that there are FIFA windows which are also very important to develop the national team on an international level. I would love to ask people to change the point of view of how they are perceiving football in Pakistan because it has the potential to bring people together, for instance, when Spain won a World Cup, the whole country was brought together. We celebrated with people that we even didn’t know. Football is a tool that is made for people, which can make people forget their daily issues. So, if the perception is changed and positive feedback is given, the players will feel more pride in playing for Pakistan and we’ll be able to engage more kids. For this case, everyone has to play their part including the players, the coaches, the media, and the clubs. We have to leave the past back and focus on the future.
Daniel Limones is hopeful about the future football state in Pakistan. With his virility and ambition, we think that Pakistan’s football team has timely fallen into the right hands.
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