EPL clubs deny any partnership as franchise league, with apparent govt backing, sets November kick-off date – Sport

KARACHI: The slogan ’Football Hoga’ (Football will happen) is back.The names of TouchSky or Global Soccer Ventures might be absent but the organisers are the ones who were involved in the afore-mentioned projects and the idea has been repackaged as the ‘Pakistan Football League’.

The mooted franchise league, on similar lines as cricket’s hugely popular Pakistan Super League, apparently also, as plans show, enjoys the backing of the government. But, despite its brochures claiming it has collaboration agreements with six English Premier League clubs for six of its sold franchises, the likes of Liverpool and Crystal Palace have denied any partnership.

And, just like last time out, the league doesn’t have validation from the Pakistan Football Federation; the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee in this case.

“[We] Went live 12 hours ago,” Ahmer Kunwer, the PFL’s president, told Dawn on Wednesday, sharing an Instagram post which unveiled the tournament’s match ball.

After several failed attempts in the past, this time Kunwer looks set for launch.

Documents detailing PFL’s elaborate plans, available with Dawn, show the month-long league is due to kick off on Nov 1 with eight of the 10 franchises already sold.

There are pre-launch events set for this month in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The rundown of the events in Karachi for May 17, titled ‘Project Pearl’, shows legendary former England striker Michael Owen and Portuguese great Nuno Gomes will grace the Kakri Ground in Lyari alongside former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, whose Pakistan People’s Party-coalition is in power in Islamabad.

Earlier on the same day, the PFL delegation will also meet Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah, also of the PPP.

With Barrister Syed Shabbir Shah, son of PPP leader Syed Nasir Shah, owning the Lyari Tigers franchise, the PFL has gained crucial support from one of the country’s ruling political parties.

But it seems the PFL has failed to deliver on its promise of having the backing of Premier League clubs for each of its franchise.

The Peshawar franchise — owned by Javed Afridi, who also owns Peshawar Zalmi in cricket’s PSL — was supposed to have Premier League giants Liverpool as its partner club.

Perhaps there had been talks. Zalmi’s Chief Commercial officer Nausherwan Effendi, who is the PFL’s Chief Operating Officer, was one of the men behind Pak Reds, the official Liverpool supporters club in Pakistan.

Liverpool’s emblem and the club’s information features prominently on the brochure alongside the Peshawar franchise. But it has denied any partnership.

“We have not entered into any franchise agreement,” a Liverpool spokesperson told Dawn on Friday.

London-based Palace made a similar denial. “It seems clear it isn’t an authorised partnership,” a Palace spokesperson told Dawn, noting that the information of the club in the brochure alongside PFL’s Quetta franchise related to its Premier League rivals Newcastle United.

INTERNATIONAL DELEGATES

Palace’s denial comes despite the name of Barry Webber, its Chief Commercial Officer, appearing in a list of international delegates due to arrive in Pakistan on May 24 for a PFL event.

Kunwer was asked if all six Premier League clubs mentioned in the brochure had been roped in. “Many many many more,” he told Dawn in a WhatsApp message on Saturday.

He reiterated that during a call later on where he made a passing reference that “someone had reached out to Liverpool”.

Four other Premier League clubs, mentioned in the brochure — West Ham United, Burnley, Watford and Leicester City — did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Dawn.

The name of Rebecca Rowely, West Ham’s head of partnerships, also appears in the list of delegates, which also includes officials from recently-crowned French and Italian champions Paris St Germain and Inter Milan respectively, German giants Bayern Munich, Portugal’s Benfica and Argentina’s River Plate.

Kunwer indicated that the May 24 plan had been moved further by 10 days.

With the PFL not being endorsed by the PFF NC, organisers have been looking at partnerships with foreign clubs in particular to get a more solid footing for the league.

In September 2021, England’s Daily Mail had reported that Premier League clubs were looking to strike partnerships with franchises of the PFL; then being organised by Kunwer and his fellow officials under the banner of GSV.

A month before that, GSV had signed a deal with the court-elected PFF of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, which wasn’t recognised by FIFA. GSV’s former iteration TouchSky had also agreed to a deal with Ashfaq’s PFF in 2019 to “develop football in Pakistan”.

None of those previous plans to organise a franchise league reached fruition while TouchSky was rebuffed by the PFF NC headed by Humza Khan in 2020. Now they’re back with the PFL.

PSL SUCCESS

The idea of a franchise league for football in Pakistan became enshrined following the success of the PSL.

Critics point to the fact that a franchise system doesn’t have promotion or relegation; the lifeblood of the game.

However, Major League Soccer — a franchise league system — has achieved huge popularity in the United States.

The MLS, however, runs like a regular league, filling up a calendar year.

In India, the Indian Super League had to eventually be expanded for it to become the country’s national league. Its current season, which began in September, will culminate in May.

In Pakistan, the race is on to get a franchise league off and running with current PFF NC chairman Haroon Malik also having plans to set up a competition of his own.

The PFL, though, has now given a starting date.

“Once the first edition takes place, there can be further expansion in the future,” Zabe Khan, PFL’s director operations, told Dawn on Saturday. “There has to be a starting point. And ours is Nov 10.”

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2024

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