Rehman happy to fly flag for Asia
CHRIS WISE Norwich City new boy Zesh Rehman never set out to be a role model - but nothing would please him more if his exploits in the professional game helped more Asian youngsters to make their mark at the highest level.
Norwich City new boy Zesh Rehman never set out to be a role model - but nothing would please him more if his exploits in the professional game helped more Asian youngsters to make their mark at the highest level.
The 22-year-old Fulham defender, who has joined the Canaries on loan until the end of season, is one of a mere handful of footballers of Indian or Pakistani descent who currently earn a living from the sport in this country.
Harpal Singh of Stockport and Adnan Ahmed of Huddersfield are two others, while Michael Chopra is also beginning to make a name for himself at Newcastle. But, by and large, British Asians are conspicuous by their absence in the Premiership and Football league - and that is a crying shame as far as Rehman is concerned.
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The Birmingham-born player, whose parents are from Pakistan, firmly believes the talent is out there, and having proved the point himself he is now hoping that more youngsters will be given the chance to follow in his footsteps.
“There are very few Asian footballers playing as professionals and if kids look upon me as a role model then I would be very flattered by that,” said Rehman. “It wouldn't be a burden on my shoulders - it would be an honour.
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“If I could play a part in attracting more British Asians into the game then that would be great.
“There are a few other lads out there - but there should be more, there's no doubt about that.”
Rehman firmly believes there is a huge source of talent out there, and reckons many oft-held pre-conceptions will have to change if clubs are to start tapping into it.
“There is alot of stereo-typing at a young age, I feel,” he said. “Before people have even seen you play they have often got an idea in their heads already about Asians playing football. The perception can often be a little bit false.
“Where I was brought up everyone played football - and that included the Asian kids. I had a little bit of luck along the way and was given a chance - but that has not always been the case. If you are good enough then race shouldn't come into it.”
The 6ft 2in centre-half played for England at youth level but has now committed himself to the land of his parents' birth, where football has always played second fiddle to cricket and hockey.
Pakistan are currently ranked 158th in the FIFA world rankings - extraordinarily low for such a populous country - and are still regarded as minnows in soccer-mad Asia. That's something else that Rehman would like to see change and his dream is to play in the World Cup before he finally hangs up his boots.
“It was an easy decision to play for them,” he said. “Hopefully I can do my bit to help football take off over there.
“At the moment cricket eclipses football but there is a lot of potential. It will take time but in another 10 years or so hopefully Pakistan will qualify for a World Cup. That might be a long way away at the moment but it is something to work for and it's very exciting to be involved.”
Playing for Pakistan at the highest level is very much a long-term ambition. As far as short-term targets are concerned Rehman only has one thing on his mind at present, and that is doing well for Norwich City.
The Fulham defender was a regular in the Premiership last season, and featured in the Cottagers' 1-0 victory at Carrow Road, but he has been limited to just five first-team appearances this term, the previous one coming back in October, so he can't wait for the chance to impress at Carrow Road.
“It all happened very quickly,” he said. “I was told a couple of days before the deadline that Norwich were interested and as soon as I heard that I couldn't wait to get down there.
“I played nearly 25 games for Fulham last season, but I haven't had so many opportunities this time around. We have four centre-backs who have got a bit more experience than me so the idea is to come here and get some games, improve as a player - and do a good job for Norwich.
“I want to help Norwich push up the table and hopefully get in the play-offs. That would be great. I have had all my experience at centre back and I prefer to play at the back - but if I am needed in midfield I could do a job there.”
Rehman was an unused substitute at Reading in midweek as City crashed to a painful 4-0 defeat but could well start in Sunday's eagerly-awaited derby clash at Ipswich.
“I'm not going to read too much into what happened on Tuesday because Reading are a very good side,” he said. “I'm sure the lads will bounce back from that, starting on Sunday.
“It's a big game for the club and, if selected, I'll be ready. Hopefully we can get a victory and kick on again.”