Thursday, 26 May 2011

Zesh Rehman interview

Edit: The interview has been translated here.
After months of dithering, I finally took the chance to speak at some length with Muangthong's Pakistani international defender Zesh Rehman. Thanks to the person who helped to arrange it and of course to Zesh for being so amiable.

Thanks for your time, Zesh. First off, are you happy with yesterday's (Tuesday's) match?
Rehman and co. shut out the Lebanese champs
Yes. It was a bit frustrating for a while because we had so many chances but the goal just wouldn't come. We just had to keep patient. The goal in the second half helped us to settle down. It was nice to get a clean sheet, too. It was a good team effort.

I've noticed that in all our home AFC games, none of the opposition strikers seem to have given you too much trouble....
Yes, I also felt that I played well in Vietnam, too. But you can never get a clean sheet without a solid team effort. We've all worked hard and played for each other in every game so the whole team deserve credit.

Do you think we can go all the way this year?
There’s no easy games but if we play as well as we have done and as well as we know we can do, then I think we have a chance.

Both last year and this year the AFC Cup seems to be dominated by Arabic teams in the quarter final stages. Last year we were just edged out in the semis, I hope this year we can go one better.....
Yes, the guys have that experience now and have a taste of getting close to the big win. That can drive us on.

What about the league campaign? We got off to a shaky start didn't we?
Sometimes it didn't go exactly as we'd hoped but we're steadier now. Again, there’s no easy games, everyone is playing for something. We know a bit of a gap has opened up and we need to make up the distance but we're just going to keep working hard. The TPL and AFC Cup have been big priorities for us and we just want to do well in every game. Yes there is some ground to make up but anything can happen in football.

Off the pitch, how's your Thai coming along?
It's getting better. I'm learning new words every day. It's important to study and learn about the culture and language wherever you go.

I've heard about your passion for your foundation. Can you tell us what the inspiration behind it was?
I was getting lots of emails and calls from kids, players and parents, especially from Asian families. I wanted to give something back to the sport and we [at the foundation] want to do something positive to help people. We want to encourage community cohesion through sports and football and help anyone develop themselves. Who knows, I might have the chance to do something similar in Thailand in the future.

Was it started from a sudden moment of inspiration or was it an idea that built up slowly over time?
It was an idea we built up. My friend and I had been thinking about doing something like this for some time.

You've got some impressive ambassadors at the foundation such as Andy Cole, Luis Boa Morte and [the only goalie to save a Le Tissier penalty] Mark Crossley to name but three...
I try to keep in touch with people I've worked with in my career and these guys are not just good players, they're good people. They're happy to help and we're happy to have them on board.

Is it a challenge to be involved in the day to day running of the foundation from over here?
I'm not involved in the day to day running, we have good people in place to do that. Of course I keep up to date with everything that's going on with it.

Where do you see the foundation in five or ten years time? Will you be working full time in the foundation when you retire?
We'll always be helping people in one way or another. It could be developing them as players, improving their diet, helping them socialise or anything else. It's just good to help people improve and develop themselves. I'm twenty-seven so I'll be playing for a while yet but I'll certainly be putting more time into it when I do hang up the boots. 

Looking at your career, what's been the best moment so far?
There's been a few special moments. My Premier League debut, taking the captaincy at Bradford, my international debut for Pakistan in 2005 when we beat Sri Lanka 1-0 and of course moving over here to Thailand.

Alan Shearer - a tough opponent, but not Zesh's toughest. 
And as a defender, who's been your toughest opponent?
When I was in the EPL I played against Thierry Henry at Arsenal. He and the team were peaking at that time and he was almost unplayable. We lost two-nil though, so it could've been worse.

I'm a Southampton fan so I was hoping you'd say Matt Le Tissier! I don't know if you've played against him?
No but I've played against Kevin Phillips, he's a good striker in a different way. I have a good record at [Southampton's ground] Saint Mary's. I've won there with QPR and Fulham.

Finally, I've been comparing the English and Thai leagues on my blog. You're the ideal man to tell us, how do they compare?
In terms of technical ability, Thailand compares very well. The different style of play would take some adjusting for Thai players. The English leagues are more direct and have less build-up play. Skill wise though, Thai players are good.

So if Muangthong played Bradford, what would the score be?
It would be very close. I think we could out-pass them and keep possession well but we might struggle with their physical and direct game. They might muscle us off the ball but I like to think that wouldn't happen with me playing! I think if we played at home, we'd win.


Thanks again to Zesh for his time. Do take a look at the excellent and inspiring work of his foundation. It's something I hope to feature in more depth in future, as football in the community is also something I'm keen on.

As with most interviews, I've done a little paraphrasing for conciseness. Any errors are entirely my own.

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