Rehman wants more Asian footballers

Former Fulham and Pakistan defender Zesh Rehman believes more Asians should pursue a career in football, but he admitted that it will take time for mindsets to change.

Football News: Zesh Rehman

By staff

Rehman, 28, currently plays for Hong Kong side Kitchee and is a native of the city of Birmingham in England. He is one of the few British South Asians to have played in the Premier League and made 30 appearances in all competitions with the Cottagers from 2004 to 2006. 

He failed to break into the first team and was subsequently shipped off on loan to Brighton & Hove Albion and left the club shortly afterwards, representing QPR, Bradford City and Muangthong United before making the switch to the Hong Kong First Division at the start of this year. 

Opting to play for Pakistan at the international level, he has played against the likes of India, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in his brief career so far. Back in England, he also runs a foundation that seeks to help Asian footballers. 

In a recent interview with, he was critical of the negative perceptions against Asian footballers that hinder their pursuit of a career in the sport. He shared part of his own experiences and explained how it inspired him to open up a foundation to make it easier for those interested in following in his footsteps. 

“From the age of 10 I was told ‘you’re never going to make it’, Asian background, scared of the weather, wrong diet, never going to be strong enough… so before they’ve kicked a ball, they’ve put you on a platform," he revealed.

“Ultimately, it’s a matter of ignorance which comes from a lack of education so you have to start at the grass roots level.

“[Only] one or two [pursue a career in professional football], the stats are quite alarming. There’s still a lot to be done, which why I set up the foundation. It’s not necessarily about producing better players but producing better people. 

"An academy is the next step. If I can make the journey smoother for someone than it was for me, then that is what I’m here for.”

He also compared the situation with the resistance black players faced a few decades ago. Nevertheless, the determination of aspiring black footballers along with the removal of cultural and racial barriers has drastically changed the environment for the better for such players, and he hopes a similar transformation will occur for Asian footballers. 

“It took 30-40 years for black players to come through and now they’re represented by almost every team. 

"It took the early one or two to go through the abuse, the hardships, to open the door for the next generation. 

"I hope it doesn’t take another 30-40 years for Asians, but hopefully Asian kids will want to follow in my footsteps, not just British Asians but other Asians.

“The big clubs like QPR, Liverpool, Chelsea, all areas with a large Asian population, but a lot of them don’t integrate with the local communities. So we’re working with the Premier League to help open them up to their local communities, setting up grass roots initiatives and helping Asian players get into clubs."

Rehman was part of the Kitchee side that won the domestic treble in the 2011-12 season. He also played in Kitchee's 2-2 friendly draw against Arsenal when the Gunners toured the region back in July. 

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