The Adnan Ahmed Story: Why Asians have not made the grade in the Premier League

Ferencvaros star looks at the problems facing Asian footballers in the UK...
Former Manchester United, Huddersfield Town, Tranmere and current Ferencvaros midfielder Adnan Ahmed has his own weekly column on the trials and tribulations of being an English-born footballer who represents Pakistan at international level whilst plying his trade in yet another foreign country – exclusive to UK.

By Adnan Ahmed

A topic that often cropped up when I met a few British UK readers during the South Asian Championships, was why very few British Asians play professional football.

It's a complicated issue and with the questions coming from four middle class indigenous Brits, it really got me thinking.

I remember watching my nephew play for his local team. Looking around the playing fields, I noticed that there wasn't a single Asian kid playing. It was alarming, but hardly surprising.

One of the main reasons why there are very few Asians in European football is that many seem to struggle to mix in with non-Asian teams, maybe because culturally there's a big gap between the typical Asian lifestyle and sports mentality.

I know many people who suffer such difficulties. For example, after games some local level players tend to meet in the club house for a drink. Tee-total Asians would not be comfortable in such an atmosphere.

A lot of Asians are uncomfortable with the changing room environment. For example, most non-Asians have showers together after a game, whereas Asians would prefer to shower alone.

You have to be mentally strong. It’s not like they can force you to drink or have a shower; but at the same time, you don’t want to be perceived as being anti-social, so it’s a tough situation.

Another potential problem is that Asian soccer teams are growing by the minute. There are certainly a lot of decent Asian players around who are technically astute and have great skill, but physically and tactically they need proper coaching.

Many Asian players stay in this comfort zone, preferring to play football in their local communities rather then go out and play at the highest level possible. Therefore, you will never see scouts at an Asian football match, so you might have a player with great potential but the chances are he won’t get spotted.

You will see lots of Asians playing indoor football, be it five-a-side or seven-a-side. Astroturf surfaces are good for sharpening up, but again - you won’t see a scout taking a look at players there. This also leads to another problem.

You can’t necessarily kick a ball properly - those Xabi Alonso-type long passes - hitting the ball with power with the right technique. There are so many Asian players I see that can’t strike a ball properly because they play indoor football week in, week out. Dribbling and making small passes are good but on a wet Saturday afternoon, on a boggy pitch, you must be able to clear the ball!

I played for non-Asian teams from the age of eight and I remember seeing a lot of scouts over the years, so it's very important to play where you are more likely to be spotted. The biggest thing is that Asians playing football need to change their mentality towards the sport; otherwise, it will be long time before we see Asians kids coming through.

If you look at Premier League clubs, they have hundreds of kids - yet only one or two will actually make it into the first teams nowadays. So if there are only handful of Asians playing at a decent level, the likelihood of someone coming through is very small.

Hopefully it will change and there will soon be more Asians kids coming through. If you look at black players, West Bromwich Albion were pioneers in that regard, and then there was John Barnes and a few others playing for club and country. Now every team in England has black players. The likes of Barnes certainly helped break down many barriers.

I hope change comes about soon. Organisations like Kick it Out are doing a great job of eradicating racism from football and everyone should get behind them - they advocate everything I believe in.

However, Britain is a great footballing nation and compared to the rest of Europe - apart from our fans in Ferencvaros, who have welcomed me with open arms - we are light years ahead of most of them when it comes to equality within the game.