Two Ryan Giggs’
Ross Lawson meets the evergreen Ali Ghazanfar – still going strong at the ripe old age of 38
We catch up with the evergreen Pakistan captain Ali Ghazanfar
AT 38 years young, Deeside Ramblers’ Ali Ghazanfar has no intentions to hang up his stick quite yet – after all he is, by his own admission, hockey’s very own Ryan Giggs.
A former Pakistan international, Ghazanfar can boast plenty of experience among hockey’s upper echelons, notably two World Cups to add to an Olympic Games selection at Athens 2004.
Add to that a stint as international captain and you’ve got the hallmarks of a stellar career – one he doesn’t want to end any time soon.
Turning out for a seventh successive Conference North campaign with the Ramblers, the old dog has again shown he has the old tricks to boot, sitting as the league’s top scorer with ten goals – all coming from penalty corners.
Dubbed by many, including his own club, as the “best drag-flicker in the world”, Ghazanfar’s actions have forever outweighed his words in domestic hockey.
His latest strike was a 121st in just 73 Deeside games, not a bad record for a centre-half.
It’s a tally the man himself admits he can improve on – at least before the stick is pried from his hand – with a coaching career waiting if and when he finally calls time on a job, sport and hobby he has loved for decades.
“I have a lot of self-pride, and the day I deem I’m not useful for the team is the one when my hockey career ends,” he said.
“I don’t want anyone to tell me I’m not good enough. I’ll know better than most when the time is right for me.
“It’s something I learned from Ryan Giggs – I’m a massive Manchester United fan and the way his career went on was a massive inspiration.
“It’s always great to be top goalscorer, but from personal opinion I need more and to be more selfish!
“I’ve got a lot of league experience now, but when your team puts you on that pedestal, you feel like you have to cash in on them.”
Insistent his playing days still have plenty to offer, the Punjab- born star is keen to profit on a legacy that has already taken him to FIH level four coaching.
And with a drag-flick that few in the modern game could ever hope to replicate, it’s little wonder Ghazanfar is looking to inspire the next generation of hockey stars.
A prodigy of Sohail Abbas, the Rambler – who turns 39 next week – has been afforded opportunities to feed off the world’s best, with his fellow former captain boasting 348 international goals – the most in hockey.
Yet with a commodity arguably as rare as hen’s teeth in his armoury, Ghazanfar is adamant he cannot let the skill slip off the radar, desperate to keep drag-flicks at the forefront of future hockey minds.
He added: “Sohail’s records are simply staggering and there hasn’t really been a drag-flicker reaching his talents.
“I was very lucky to learn so much, flicking takes a lot of work and there’s nobody quite like him. We used to do 500 flicks every single day so to get to that level is down to the work you put in.
“It’s not been taken as properly as it could have been in this country – we have specialist goalkeeper coaches, mental coaches, so maybe it’s a skill that needs to be tapped into more.
“It’s a potential game-changer, an option at any time and you need to be giving yourself an opportunity.
“I’ve played with some fantastic drag-flickers and I think it would be a waste if that talent wasn’t used as it could, but it comes down to practice, practice, practice and always time working in the gym.”
The Conference North’s top scorer has helped Deeside to fourth place after ten games this campaign, already two spots better off than last season’s display.
And in Andy Mitchell, former league-winning player and coach with Cannock, the Chester-based club have also added pedigree to their backroom staff.
For Ghazanfar, it is the trademark of a side moving in the right direction. He hopes his 265 international appearances can be the foundation for further Deeside success.
“Everyone wants to finish on top but realistically we’re looking to the top three so we’re in a solid enough position, and with the way we’re playing now it’s more than achievable.
“We’ve grown so much, we’ve got a new coach in Andy who has a massive background and he’s been a big influence in our progression.
“But I admire everyone at the club, they’re all so nice and it’s a real family system to make the club one of the best I’ve ever been with.
“They look after you in any and every way, from the players up to the chairman, and that makes a massive difference to how you feel and how you play your hockey.”
I’m a massive Manchester United fan and Ryan Giggs’ career has been a huge inspiration to me
Going strong: Deeside’s Ali Ghazanfar says he has no intention of hanging up his stick just yet