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May 16, 2021

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UK’s South Asian football talent now out of the shadows

MENTORING, a changing of mindsets and ditching “lazy stereotypes” will ensure more English-born professional footballers of South Asian descent make it to the top of the game.

That’s the view of Riz Rehman, player inclusion executive for the Professional Footballers’ Association, who is tasked with tapping into under-used reserves of talent.

While black players are well-represented in the English leagues, there are far fewer South Asians — just 15 in the professional ranks and 10 young “scholars,” according to Rehman.

Over the past 20 years just 24 players of South Asian descent have made a league debut while Ricky Hill remains the only footballer from that background to have played for England, winning three caps in the 1980s.

Rehman, whose own career was brought to a premature end by injury, says under-representation is a “big problem for our communities,” but should not be the defining narrative.

His brother, Zesh, remains the only player to have played in the Premier League with full South Asian heritage (their parents are Pakistan-born) when he turned out for Fulham from 2004.

Zesh was capped at youth level for England but went on to captain Pakistan.

“Me, my peers and the young players are evidence that players of Asian descent can thrive and that should be the focus,” Riz Rehman said.

Rehman points to other success stories such as Neil Taylor, who played for Wales at Euro 2016, Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury and Danny Batth, who helped Wolves win promotion to the Premier League.

He says they can act as mentors for academy players, and youngsters such as Arjan Raikhy, who made his senior debut for Aston Villa earlier this season, can do the same for those who are even younger.

“Zesh, Michael Chopra, Easah Suliman, Hamza Choudhury, Yan Dhanda have represented England at various levels,” he said. “No one talks about these achievements.

“For the last 30 years we’ve had the same lazy stereotypes labelled against Asians in football and we want to move away from these misconceptions.

“We are starting to do that by showcasing the successes and the contribution these players have made to the game.”

Daniel Kilvington, senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, says the widespread belief that English-born South Asian youngsters are primarily interested in cricket or hockey is not true.

“You go out in any local school or park in a British South Asian area — as I know from my own experience in Bradford — footballs would be flying around rather than cricket balls,” he said. He believes high-profile role models “are an ignition key for younger people.”


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