KARACHI: Former England Footballer Michael Owen has insisted on creating more opportunities for people to play and enjoy football if Pakistan wants to have a better future in the sport.
The 42-year-old told Geo News in an exclusive interview that a country of 220 million should have multiple sports to follow instead of just one or two.
"In a country of 220 million, you should have about 20-25 sports that people can play, and enjoy," the former Liverpool star said.
"Being from the UK, we're a cricket-mad country as well. We like boxing, we like golf, we like athletics, we have football, we like rugby, we like lots of different sports and, I don't see why getting more people involved in football is going to do any harm to the country at all.
"Football is certainly not a competitor to cricket in any way, shape or form. But we know that that lots of people like football and are passionate about football here but, we also know that the opportunity is not really there for people to have a future in the game," Owen stated.
Owen, who featured in three world cups, revealed that he’s working to create opportunities for people to get involved in Football in Pakistan and there’s more in the bag for football enthusiasts than just the opportunity to be involved in a programme with Ireland's St Patrick's club.
He agreed that the FIFA ban and political turmoil in Pakistan halts the development of Footballers but said that the process of development must go on.
"There's are a lot of things that need sorting out. I'm not a politician, I will leave the relevant people to solve those problems which I believe will hopefully be sorted. But regardless of the problems, we still need to produce more players and better players.
"Having a league in Pakistan will excite so many people, being able to support teams from your country or from your city or your town. So, I think there are lots of things regardless of international football, of course, international football is important and that is almost what we're building towards but we need to structure the low leagues below and eventually, that will help the international team as well," the former England footballer said about developing Football in Pakistan.
The former striker arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday morning as part of the project by Global Soccer Ventures to develop Football stadiums in Pakistan and to select Pakistani footballers to get training and playing opportunities at Ireland's St. Patrick's club.
Since arrival in Pakistan, the Englishman has remained busy in various activities.
"It's been a great experience so far. I've really enjoyed my time in Pakistan. The people have been so welcoming. I've had lots of meetings with top dignitaries, local people, I've met all kinds of people and everybody's been very warm. Everybody's been very excited about the plans for the future. So, I'm very excited too and hoping that in years to come we'll have a very strong Pakistan structure in football," Owen said.
Michael Owen, who was introduced to Football at the age of 7, said that if one needs to do better in Football then one should start playing at the age of six or seven as this is what everybody else does in the world of Football.
He mentioned that you can’t change a team or nation's football fortune in two or three years and things should be done at the lower level.
"For the long term if we get the structure right below, and, I'm talking about encouraging people at 6,7,8 years of age to enjoy football. Not everybody has to be a professional footballer, certainly not what I'm saying but football is great for everybody. It's great socially, you make lots of friends, it's very good for your health. It's a great game," he said.
"I think Pakistan has got so many people, so many enthusiastic people out there that love sports, then it should be doing far better than what it currently does. I will certainly encourage football to be played at all ages. We can make a huge difference but if we're looking at realistically making the difference, then I'd say it's going to be in generations to come if you start practicing with younger people," he said.
The former World Cupper also backed the decision to increase the number of teams in the FIFA World Cup and termed it a great decision.
"I mean, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in a world that was very, very lucky. I have played in three World Cups, but it's amazing fun for more countries to have the opportunity to qualify," he said.
The former England Footballer also shared his thoughts on cricket – which is a sport that is loved by Pakistan and England both as both the countries have been winners of cricket world cups.
"I'm a keen follower of cricket. I wouldn't be as knowledgeable as I am about football but I'm certainly keen on watching cricket. We're not in a good place at the moment. We lost the Ashes just recently. So, the cricket nation is in mourning at the moment. But we've got some very big results in recent years," he said.
"When I was growing up Wasim Akram was a great bowler, there have been so many great players over the years in Pakistan and I know it's a cricket-mad country. And that's what I love about countries that have a real passion for sports because sports just brings the nations together," he concluded.