Zesh Rehman was told that his Asian background would prevent him from making a career in football but the former Premier League defender has proved anything is possible and is now inspiring a new generation of people and Asian footballers through his success in Asia. We caught up with Zesh to talk about football in Asia, the recent racism issues in the UK football and the work of his foundation.
Having signed for the Hong Kong Premier League side just six months ago, Zesh has settled into his new surroundings seamlessly. An ever present at the heart of Kitchee’s defence, the Pakistan international has lifted the Championship title, won the domestic League Cup and FA Cup, and reached the last 16 of the Asian Football Confederation Cup, in what has been a record-breaking campaign for the team. “I am really enjoying life out in Hong Kong,” said Zesh, one of the games leading ambassadors striving for equality.
“There is a fantastic set-up at Kitchee and the standard of football is very good. It was such a good feeling to win my first trophy as a professional footballer, but then to go on and do the treble was an amazing feeling – and it has given me the bug to win more. “It’s great to be playing in a winning team with confidence so high. We play an attacking brand of football under the guidance of former Barcelona youth coach Josep Gambau.
“We welcome Arsenal in July during pre-season at the Hong Kong Stadium and I look forward rubbing shoulders once again with one of the top teams in Europe. It will be a tough game but if we can carry on the momentum I’m sure we will give them a good game.”
Off the pitch, Zesh, 28, continues to inspire a new generation of young people both in the UK and internationally. Since his arrival in Hong Kong, a new demographic of supporters have started to attend matches at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, something which has overwhelmed the former Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Bradford City man.
“It is always nice to see the smiles on people’s faces at matches. The Islamic Trust has been a focal point of Hong Kong for years but to now see students, teachers and families attend matches on a regular basis for the first time since my arrival is great. Football has the power to bring people together from all corners of the world.”
Although based in Asia, Zesh keeps a close eye on developments back home. Speaking about the high-profile incidents which occurred during the season just gone and the debate surrounding Rio Ferdinand’s omission from the England EURO 2012 squad, Zesh continued: “I have received many phone calls and emails from various media asking my views and opinions.
“This comes in regards to this season’s incidents in the Premier League and now Rio’s exclusion from the England squad, and what impact theses issues have on aspiring British Asian players, coaches and the parents who may want to gear their child towards professional football.
“As a young player coming through the ranks, Rio was a role model of mine and I was lucky enough to play against him in a few games. Based on his ability alone he should be in the England squad for sure. For someone who has played at the top level for so long and performed for England on a consistent basis, to then be overlooked is disrespectful to a well-respected figure in the game.
“For those aspiring Asian players and coaches pursuing a career in the game, they should not be deterred from any negativity in the media but remain resolute in their pursuit of entering the football industry albeit as a player, coach, groundsman, referee, administrator, media representative or even as a supporter. “Much has been said about recent racism in football and what barriers Asian players and coaches face but there is not just one underlying factor, it’s a combination of several social issues and ignorance which stems from a lack of education.”
Back in the UK until the end of June, Zesh is continuing to carry out work with the Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF), an initiative looking to change the perceptions and myths surrounding Asians in the game, football’s governing bodies and other charitable organisations.
“It’s been non-stop since I landed back in the UK,” the 28-year-old said. “I was invited over to Ireland as a guest speaker on the Irish FA/UEFA Pro License to talk about the Asia market for current and future coaches and managers who will go on to manage at the highest level of the game.
“Coaching and management is something I see myself going into in the future and to be mingling with experienced professionals at such a young age will hold me in good stead for the future and hopefully inspire a new generation of Asian coaches.”
The work of the ZRF has also gone from strength to strength with projects now being delivered in partnership with Bolton Wanderers, Crystal Palace and Liverpool Football Club.
“We also have projects in the pipeline with my old clubs Fulham and QPR and the current Champions League Winners Chelsea.
“It’s about inspiring young people from marginalised communities and giving them an association with a professional club. From our programmes we ultimately want to see more young people from disadvantaged communities up-skilled as future coaches, managers and players by raising the self-esteem and giving them the confidence to fulfill their potential”.
For more information about the ZRF visit: www.zeshrehmanfoundation.org.uk
For more information about Zesh visit: www.zeshrehman.com
Tags: Interview, Kitchee SC, Rio Ferdinand, Zesh Rehman, Zesh Rehman Foundation