The Premier League has seen many players from around the world ply their trade in England, but just a small minority have been Asian – only one from Pakistan – Zesh Rehman.
In April 2004 Rehman made his debut for Fulham, becoming the first British-Asian footballer to play in the Premier League, but that is not all Rehman has managed to do.
“My sole purpose in trying to be a success as a professional footballer is to inspire other Asian players to follow my lead and achieve their goals.” Rehman said.
Before him who could Asians or Muslims look up to as role models in the English game?
He is now an ambassador for the Asian Football Network aimed at the grassroots levels for Asian football in the UK; he has also been involved in countless initiatives aimed at increasing the number of British Asians taking up a career in football.
One scheme put on by Chelsea football club, ‘Search for an Asian star’, has targeted these problems with Simon Taylor, the leader of the programme, believes it is another step in the right direction.
“It won’t be long before we see Asian football players breaking into the first teams of their clubs,” Taylor said.
But there still seems to be a certain stereotype that the Asian population will prefer cricket over football – something Rehman is keen to eradicate.
“Coaches, scouts and managers need to be more open-minded,” Rehman said.
One thing that everyone associated with improving the numbers of professional Asian players in the Premier League is the notion that they are playing in all-Asian leagues, and that can be detrimental to their future careers.
For in the 21st century, England is now seen as a multi-cultural country. A vast amount of religions and ethnicities are in England today so to go back one step by singling out an amateur career in an all-Asian league reaps no benefits for players of big aspirations.
Recent years have seen an increase of Asian players in the Premier League though and sides like Manchester United and Liverpool have toured Asia which, not only gives them an insight into Asian football, but a taste of the passion for football in Asia.
Rehman, now playing in Hong Kong for Kitchee SC, has been a great role model for the Asian footballer and initiatives like Chelsea’s ‘Search for an Asian star’ put on by Simon Taylor will be rewarded with finding the next generation of Asian football stars in England.