2022 World Cup will open doors for Asians, says Rehman

DUBAI - Zesh Rehman insists the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will open doors for Asian footballers like never before as football goes from strength to strength across the continent.

By Alex Leach

Published: Sun 12 Aug 2012, 12:24 AM

Last updated: Mon 11 Oct 2021, 6:09 PM

The 28-year-old began his career at Fulham, where he became the first British Asian to start an English Premier League (EPL) game, before plying his trade in the other three English professional leagues with the likes of Blackpool, Bradford City, Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers.

Rehman, who has represented Pakistan at senior level, has since had a season-long spell in Thailand with Muangthong United and now finds himself at Hong Kong Premier League outfit Kitchee. He is then only too aware of exactly what it takes to carve out a career in the global game as an Asian and firmly believes others can now follow suit in the build-up to the summer showpiece in 10 years’ time.

“I’ve been impressed by the standard of football and there are some very good players in Asia,” the central defender enthused.

“Asia’s time will come because it’s growing rapidly. More and more big names are coming over to the region to grow the leagues and the profile, so — by the time the Qatar World Cup comes around — I don’t think we’ll be discussing this subject anymore.”

Rehman is confident then that full and lasting integration of Asian players into major European leagues will improve significantly in due course, yet — equally — better interaction and representation would enhance those prospects even further.

“I work closely with the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) and many governing bodies of the game that are trying to make a difference and you’ve got to start at the grassroots level and then try to increase the numbers at all levels across the board — from scouts to the boardroom, the pitch and the fans,” Rehman explained.

“There’s more progress than maybe 10 years ago, but it’s still a little bit too slow.”

Nonethless, Rehman hopes his work with the PFA and through his own self-titled foundation can ultimately inspire the next generation of Asian youngsters in Britain and beyond. “My motivation was to try and be that person for the next generation to look up to and follow,” he added.

“I don’t look at it as a burden. It’s a responsibility which I’m proud to have and hopefully it can open the floodgates in the future.

“If you back in England in the Seventies, there were very, very few black players and they went through torrid abuse.

“History will repeat itself, but it’s taking its time and we’ve got to stick at it.”

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