I launched Real Madrid’s first channel and hosted Chelsea TV… now I’m the face of something completely different

MUCH-LOVED football presenter Alison Bender thought she had seen it all during an impressive career.

From icons such as Brazilians Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos at Real Madrid to legendary managers like Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, the star has worked with some of the true greats in the game.

PFLAlison Bender has become the new face of the Pakistan Football League[/caption]

The SunShe was part of an international delegation that travelled across the South Asian country this week[/caption]

PFLEngland legend Michael Owen is the global ambassador for the PFL[/caption]

PFLBender spoke to Sun Sport about her motivations behind joining the PFL venture[/caption]

The former Real Madrid and Chelsea TV host, who has also been a regular on our screens for Sky Sports, is always looking to reinvent herself to stay ahead of the game.

But her latest adventure is something truly unique as she joined forces with England legend Michael Owen to officially launch the brand-new Pakistan Football League this week.

Joined by former England and Liverpool strike partner Emile Heskey, 46, and 45-year-old ex-Tottenham and France defender Pascal Chimbonda, Owen, 44, took the international delegation on a relentless 800 mile journey from Islamabad to Lahore and then Karachi over three days in his role as global ambassador for the PFL.

Bender has agreed to be the official face of the league and spent a gruelling four hours on stage as she hosted the official launch in Lahore on Thursday.

The eight-team league is set to be conducted in November this year and is being organised by the PFL UK Holdings, led by its chairman Farhan Junejo and president and CEO Ahmer Kunwar.

And Bender admits that the opportunity to get involved and help to create something from scratch in a country she never thought that she would visit was too good to turn down.

Speaking to Sun Sport, she said: “I said I know nothing about Pakistan football. 

“I’d never been to Pakistan and I think that in my real life I’d never have got the opportunity.

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“Every single thing that I’ve done in my life that involved travel has made me grow so much and I thought that I’d really like to learn about it.

“They wanted me to not just do the launch but to be the face of it – which I couldn’t really be until I’d seen it.”

Bender made the over 8,000 mile journey to Pakistan last Sunday along with the rest of the international delegation, which included the likes of former Manchester United chiefs Michael Knighton and Mike Farnan, now CEO of Redstrike.

There was also ex-Barnsley and Red Bull Salzburg manager Gerhard Struber along with representatives from the MLS, Benfica and Atletico Madrid.

“Everybody is so welcoming and every single person you meet wants you to love their country and will go above and beyond to be very hospitable,” added Bender.

“It’s been lovely and actually, in addition, I think that they have assembled a really nice team where I’ve just loved listening to everyone and their experiences.

“We don’t have much of a chance in football because we are always busy doing our jobs, and every week I’m in a press room with people that I’d love to talk but I don’t have a chance to.

“It makes you better to learn from their experiences so I’ve loved all of that as well.

“I’ll be really honest and my first thought was travel, wow. Travel and football – my two favourite things.

“But you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement when you talk to people and you start to think that this is hopefully going to make a difference.  

“That’s an added bonus, it’s a special thing. 

“And, as a girl in football, I’m used to people telling me that I don’t belong there and there must be kids here that have untapped talent but don’t have the right infrastructure to make it.

“We can’t run before we can walk but everything has to start somewhere.”

The addition of former Liverpool and Manchester United forward Owen also proved to be a key factor in Bender agreeing to back the PFL.

PFLBender pictured with highly-rated Austrian coach Gerhard Struber[/caption]

PFLThe star is hoping to enjoy more of the success that she had with Real Madrid and Chelsea TV[/caption]

She said: “It was really important to me to know that Michael Owen was involved because he’s one of those footballers that always does things right.

“He’s a Fifa ambassador, a Ballon d’Or winner, he’s a legend, and the way he conducts himself I thought ‘OK, this is a project to be taken seriously’.

“It always helps to have an ambassador on board that is a global name that you can trust. “That was first and foremost but I also knew Michael from when I was at Real Madrid TV with him.

“I actually joked about how I went to Real Madrid and set up Real Madrid TV, I was the executive producer, and I launched the channel from scratch. It was my baby and I watched it grow to great things and saw it give jobs to loads of people.

“I’ve actually been involved in quite a few launches, like Premier League TV and I’ve seen that grow – this will take longer for sure but I love being in things from the beginning.

“Even if it’s 20 years down the line and I’m in my rocking chair, to see maybe an attacking player playing in the Premier League, Championship whatever, I can say that I had a little part in that and that’s a very nice feeling.

Bender continued: “This was very much ‘come over to Pakistan and see how you find it’ but I’ve already had a really lovely chat with Michael about it.

Real Madrid TVBender got her big break when she launched Real Madrid TV in 2005[/caption]

Sky SportsShe has also starred on Sky Sports news as well as reporting live from Premier League games[/caption]

“He’s been bombarded but he’s been really patient and we managed to have a really good one and it was really nice as he was saying ‘we are a team, what can we do to make this work’, which is really refreshing to hear an ex footballer making plans.

“So we’ll keep the conversations going and see what we can do to help but we agreed it’s important to keep on consultants and take their expertise on board – we just have to tap into it. It’s just about keeping the momentum going.”

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Bender has always been one to take up a challenge – and she hopes that this new one can also help her to continue inspiring and tutoring youngsters from across the globe.

She said: “I’m a freelancer now, my job as a pitchside reporter and host just gets a little bit harder to secure each season so I’m always trying to reinvent myself, meet new people and gain different opportunities in football. So it ticked a lot of boxes.

“I’ve worked for Malaysia and Astro Super Sport, a Malysian rights holder, and I’m the only English face on the channel.

“That’s been really nice as I’ve had lots of girls from Malaysia getting in touch with me saying ‘wow, I didn’t know that girls could do this’.

“I also mentor some of the girls that they have over there and I’ve got into that mentoring role quite a lot. I’ve got an academy, teaching young boys and girls the skills required, and I’ve started to really like that side of it.

“It’s really lovely as people approach me a lot and say that they didn’t know it was a job for a girl.”

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