Portuguese star Luis Figo and Brazilian star Kaka have promised on Thursday to develop the “big promise” of football in Pakistan, a country obsessed with cricket and banned twice in international football.
The two legends, both of whom played for the Spanish club Real Madrid, are on a full-day visit to Pakistan as part of the World Soccer Stars Tour. The aim is to promote the emerging talents through exhibition games and coaching clinics.
The 2000 Ballon d’Or winner Figo, who wore a cricket bat in bow to the popularity of the game in Pakistan, told reporters in Karachi he was “excited” to be there.
“There is a big promise of football in Pakistan, so we are here to develop the game,” said Figo, who also played for Barcelona before retiring in 2009.
Kaka, who himself wore a cricket ball, said the pair was committed to promoting football worldwide. “We have a good impression of Pakistan,” added the 2007 winner of the Ballon d’Or, who also played for AC Milan and retired in 2017.
Pakistan had a top 10 spot in Asian football until the early 1970s. Due to lack of government support and inadequate infrastructure, it fell to 199 in the FIFA ranking.
Pakistan was banned in 1995 and again in 2017 for violating the FIFA rules requiring all associations to be free from state and judicial interference in their respective countries.
The most recent ban was lifted in 2018, but Pakistan is on the brink of a third strike after the Federation Chairman has not accepted the results of a controversial leadership election last month. Cricket is king of more than 200 million people in the South Asian country who have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
But a visit by eight international stars, led by Brazilian legend Ronaldhino in 2017, has shown that the game is becoming increasingly popular. The younger generations appreciate Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luca Modric.
Figo and Kaka support FIFA’s stance to increase the number of World Cup teams from 32 to 48 in 2026 and to co-host the US, Mexico and Canada.
It means “more players and more opportunities,” Figo said, while Kaka hoped that Pakistan would take the opportunity and appear “soon” in the World Cup.
The captain of the Pakistani football team, Saddam Hussain, also met with Figo and Kaka, while a large number of young fans received autographs and made selfies with the two players. The two stars will also visit Lahore on Thursday and are expected to return to exhibition games and coaching clinics from 23 to 26 April.