Dubbed as Pakistan’s Messi for his goal-scoring record, Kaleemullah Khan has come a long way from playing on the stony grounds of Chaman, Baluchistan to becoming the first Pakistani to be signed by Sacramento Republic of the USL.
Kaleemullah is a footballer of stellar talent to come out of Pakistan, a nation that is not only well-known for their undying passion for cricket, but football is such an obscure sport in the country that many people aren’t even aware that they even have a national team for the sport.
The 27-year-old was a football fan from a young age and would religiously watch world cup matches that were broadcast by the Pakistan Television channel (PTV).
Even though, cricket always got more exposure and preference by the general masses, Kaleemullah hails from a part of Pakistan that is big on football and despite the challenges; he continued to train as a footballer.
While his friends were opting for careers in engineering and medicine, Kaleemullah took the road less travelled and with the support of his parents, he went on to pursue a career in football.
“Football is a popular sport in Baluchistan, to the point it eclipses cricket in many ways, but unfortunately, we don’t have any facilities that can promote the sport,” the Pakistani football star told Sport360.
“The city I am from, Chaman, had no football stadia or ground or any facilities of any sorts. My earliest memory of playing football is without shoes on a stony field. When I had a ball, I had no shoes and when I would have shoes, I wouldn’t have a ball – those were very tough times,” he recalls.
Another one of the biggest challenge Kaleemullah faces was having to train without a proper coach and guidance, and mostly trained by himself on his own time with his cousins, who were also avid football fans.
From a small town, he then travelled to Lahore and was instantly scouted for the U-19 football team and from there on the sky was the limit.
Prior to his stint in the USL in 2015, the versatile footballer played for Dordoi Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan from 2014 to 2015 and is now currently playing as midfielder for Zakho in the Iraqi league.
Kaleemullah’s humble beginnings did not stop him from gaining extensive international experience and becoming a goal-scoring machine and a force to be reckoned with.
He has earned major plaudits for his intelligence and unbelievable talents as a footballer internationally, but on a home front, to say that Pakistani football is in shambles is a gross understatement.
Marred by allegations of corruption and embezzlement, the Pakistani football gained even further notoriety after they received a ban by FIFA because of ‘undue third party interference’ in the affairs of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and the national team was suspended from taking part in future tournaments.
In light of such events, Kaleemullah Khan has made efforts of his own to revive Pakistani football and is actively campaigning for a Pakistan Super League for football.
“I am currently leading a campaign to start a PSL for football. The league has done wonders for cricket, but now it’s time to open the doors of football for the youngsters in our country. It is an absolute shame that we don’t have a professional league of our own and we need to change that so we can give the youth athletic aspirations,” he said.
“The league will allow us to create a platform and get facilities for the sport as well. With the experience I have gathered experience during my tenure abroad and I am doing everything from my end in getting sponsors, so we can get this started.”
Due to the lock-down imposed as a result of the pandemic, all work has currently been halted but Kaleemullah Khan is still positive and insists that once things get back to normalcy, he will be able to change the general landscape of the sport in Pakistan.