No place can match the thrill of playing in India: Pak assistant coach

IMAGE: Pakistan assistant coach Rehan Butt believes the two nations should play more often. Photograph: Kind courtesy Hockey India

Two decades back, Rehan Butt used to be the reason for Indian defenders’ sleepless nights and the man known for his deft stick-work still reminisces the good old days when playing against the next door neighbours in their backyard felt like “playing a home game”. 

With bilateral sporting ties between India and Pakistan coming to a halt due to simmering cross-border tension, Butt, currently the assistant coach of Pakistan team, is delighted that the players from current generation would get a chance to showcase their skills in-front of a knowledgeable Chennai crowd in the upcoming Asian Champions Trophy.

“I have played all around the world but there is no place that can match the fun and thrill of playing in India – it would feel as if we were playing in Pakistan. I have always got a lot of love here, have also made some friends,” Butt, who is famous for his twin goals in the dying moments of Pakistan’s Champions Trophy clash against India in Germany in 2002, told PTI Bhasha in an exclusive interview.


Overwhelmed by the appreciation and warmth Pakistan team often received in India, Butt said the two countries should resume bilateral hockey ties at the earliest.

Tasked with the duty of guiding his country’s premier talents, the 43-year-old former star centre forward couldn’t wait for the India game to start.

The contest between the two arch-rivals — the world No 4 India and Pakistan — is scheduled for August 9.

“I have heard that tickets have been sold out for the India-Pakistan clash. There is a lot of following for this game and it is time the bilateral hockey relations resumed between the two nations.

“From sponsors to broadcasters to players, everyone will benefit from it,” Butt, who represented Pakistan in 274 international matches, said. 

Pakistan have sent a young side for the ACT and their focus is to prepare the side for the Asian Games in September.

“We have formulated a long-term plan having not qualified for the Olympics during the last two editions,” said Butt, who had stitched together a strong on-field partnership with Shakeel Abbasi.

“Captain Muhammad Umar Bhutta and Rana Waheed are the only experienced players, the rest of the Pakistan side will be facing India at the senior level for the first time,” noted Butt.

“Since we have a young side facing world No. 4 India, pressure will of course be on the players,” Butt said.

However even hosts can’t do away with the pressure associated with a Pakistan game.

“But India will be under pressure too, for they are playing on their turf. Our confidence will increase if we do well against India,” he added.

Butt said Pakistan are also looking to finalise their plans for the Asian Games through ACT.

“Our young players have a lot of potential and playing in the ACT will give them good experience. We want to qualify for the Olympics via the Asian Games.

“Hence, we are working on making the infrastructure of Pakistan hockey similar to India’s. Also, this tournament can bridge the gap between junior and senior levels for the younger players,” Butt said.

Butt also backed India to be a strong medal contender in the Paris Olympics next year.

“India are No. 4 in the world. If they continue to play similarly, they will be strong contenders for a medal in the Paris Olympics. India should not face any difficulty making it to the final of ACT on August 12. We would also want to gift the fans a title clash between India and Pakistan,” Butt concluded.

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